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Published on December 30, 2019

7 Reasons Why Creating a To-Do List Makes You Productive

7 Reasons Why Creating a To-Do List Makes You Productive

There are all kinds of productivity hacks out there. From the famous Pomodoro Technique to having a well structured, high-energy morning routine. The list can go on and on for various productivity methods. But none compare to the productivity hack of making a to-do list.

While some would disagree with me, the fact remains we are people in the end. There is something powerful when we put what we need to do on a piece of paper. In fact, putting together a to-do list can make us more productive in the right circumstances.

What are the benefits of creating a to-do list?

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of a to-do list. They are what govern my day and I stand by them. Through my use of to-do lists, I’ve come to learn the perks to them and how to make the most of them.

I say this because as I mentioned above, some people would disagree with me. Some turn to articles that claim specific CEOs don’t use to-do lists or they’ve got first-hand experience how to-do lists have failed them in the past.

I won’t deny that I’ve struggled at first with a to-do list in the past. But there have also been times where a to-do list has saved me a lot of headaches and strifes as well.

As we explore the benefits of these lists, I hope you’ll see these lists the same way I do.

1. To-Do Lists Create Order

First on our list of benefits is the fact it creates order in our lives. Whenever we are tackling a project or following through with a plan, we need it broken down.

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We do this because our own brain can only handle so much in terms of a task. So if we break down a task into bite-sized and doable chunks, it’s easier to process and get things done.

You can even stretch this to the point that this helps us strategize our day too.

2. To-Do Lists Help You Create Accountability

In today’s age of technology, it’s rare for us to write things down. While that might be troubling to some people, I’d say it’s a good thing. It’s powerful because when we do write things down, we create accountability for ourselves.

Not only that, but something we write down sticks into our mind more than writing it in our smartphone or tablet.

Now that you’ve written something down, you’ve given it life and it’s up to us to accomplish that goal.

3. You Can Personalize Your To-Do Lists

If you look around, you’ll find all kinds of styles of to-do lists. Each one is unique and has it’s own perks to it – like this 1-3-5 to-do list created by The Muse.

The point is that, there are so many styles that you can take one style and make your own out of it, and still reap the benefits. This means there is plenty of room for you to experiment too.

4. To-Do Lists Help Relieve Your Stress

One other benefit I want to highlight is that it’s a stress reliever. I want to bring attention to this for two reasons:

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  • The feeling of moving forward and scratching off items on your to-do list is a feel good.
  • But it’s that feel-good feeling where some people argue where to-do lists can be destructive.

You see, the act of scratching things off your to-do list releases a substance called dopamine into your brain.[1] It makes us feel good and happy. But it’s also addictive.

Where some people argue against to-do lists is the fact some people will purposely make to-do lists excessively long just to get that dopamine fix. This makes sense because like an addiction, we grow numb and eventually need larger dosages to get that same feel-good feeling.

While that’s not a lie, the truth is that’s not on the fault of a to-do list by that point.

A to-do list, when done constructively, can relieve stress. When you consider the various methods of making a to-do list, you’ll find they’re conservative.[2]

People are only focused on a handful of tasks every day. They don’t bother writing a list for every single action they take. You can also incorporate other principles into your to-do lists in order to stay focused and relieve stress

5. A To-Do List Leaves You Open to Rescheduling and Organizing Time

Part of that stress relief comes in the form of more flexibility and organization of your time. Where there are so many deadlines for us to follow, knowing what’s coming up in advance can help us plan better.

In the event where you have too many things to do, you can try to reorganize the tasks. This can also work in the reverse where if you see an opening in your schedule, you can pick up your productivity so you can relax more later.

Having a to-do list can also help you in getting back to things whenever you are pulled away. Life throws distractions our way all the time, and having a to-do list can help you in getting back after you finished with something that took your attention.

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6. To-Do Lists Help You Delegate

And on the note of feeling overwhelmed, putting a to-do list can also help you in figuring out what you can delegate. If your list is way too long, you can shorten it by giving it to someone else.

The scenarios are different in every situation but for anything work related, there is large and thriving freelance industry ready to handle any task. In other cases, you could find an employee or possibly a family member or friend to help you out with a task outside of work.

7. A To-Do List Helps You Grow

When jumping into something, there are bound to be some bumps along the way. While these pitfalls cause people to get turned off from to-do lists entirely, I find them as a reason to grow.

With every new problem comes an opportunity to learn, and grow. There are all kinds of pitfalls people fall into with to-do lists[3] and facing these problems gives us a chance to thrive, learn and improve.

Remember that failure is only truly a failure if you give up and refuse to learn anything from the experience.

How to Reap the Benefits of a To-Do List?

Feeling overwhelmed. Missing deadlines. A tendency to forget about important things. General stress or anxiety and a lack of direction in life….

These are some of the common symptoms some people can experience when they lack a to-do list. At their core, a to-do list is a list of priorities. They can also be a list of goals that you want to achieve in your life or over the course of a week.

To-do lists are incredibly flexible tools for people but, it essentially serves as a compass for people. When we are writing something down, it sticks to us and further consult of that list serves as a reminder for us to get it done too.

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Of course, there are times where a to-do list will fail you. When we don’t use them properly, they are what many others have said: a waste of time. After all, most who use to-do lists poorly are unfocused and can be unreliable.

But when we are using them properly, this sense of order creates structure and can keep us in check. There is a sense of stress relief because we put into perspective how many things we have to do and the time allotted.

This compass aspect also plays another significant role in that it allows us to boost our productivity in several ways. While we think of to-do lists as a simple list of things to do, I’ve already outlined there are many ways to organize lists.

With this in mind, it makes sense there are various ways we can build on that. When we understand how we get things done, we can start to prioritize ways to get things done. Similar to the 80 20 rule, we begin to leverage the methods that will push us the most.

For some, it may be narrowing the items into specific instructions. Or maybe we work better with a few items but make them the most important tasks to complete. Whatever the case, when we have a direction, we get a better idea of what are some upgrades[4] to an already productive system.

Furthermore, if we are struggling with getting things on our to-do list, we can turn to active solutions or find some other things that are sapping at our energy. Ultimately, if we are failing at making a to-do list, we can learn to make them better and helpful.

The Bottom Line

A to-do list is the ultimate form of boosting productivity. Unlike many other tools out there, this one can incorporate multiple methods. Not only that, but it also takes a deeper look at our views and how we work.

The fact that a to-do list is so flexible allows us to use various methods and building blocks to make it a tool to help us improve and get so much done. I hope by the end of this you will give this a try and see how much a to-do list can change your life.

More to Help You Get Organized

Featured photo credit: The Journal Garden | Vera Bitterer via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on November 3, 2020

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1

It takes being productive to get things done correctly and on time. So how do you know which tasks are essential and which can wait? The answer is in the Prioritization Matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

The matrix took its name after Dwight David Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was a general in the US army and the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. As a five-star general and a Supreme Commander in the US Army, he drafted the strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe.[1]

Eisenhower had to make tough decisions every time about which tasks to prioritize out of many he needed to focus on daily. So, he came up with the famous Eisenhower Matrix, or the Prioritization Matrix.

What Is the Prioritization Matrix?

The Prioritization Matrix is a tool for rating your tasks based on urgency. It helps you know the critical activities and those tasks that you should bypass and can be useful in project management, small businesses, or personal tasks.

Eisenhower famously said of the matrix:

“Most tasks that are urgent are not important, and most tasks that are important are not urgent.”

This quote became the maxim for Eisenhower in managing his time.

There are four quadrants in the Prioritization Matrix, which help in comparing choices of what to do first and last, allowing you to prioritize projects and create strategic plan[2].

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Eisenhower Matrix Template

    The quadrants are:

    • Do
    • Schedule
    • Delegate
    • Eliminate

    Do

    Do is the first quadrant in the Prioritization Matrix, and it incorporates important activities. That is, those tasks you need to carry out urgently — crises, deadlines, and issues that need your urgent attention and are highly relevant to your life mission.

    Hw do you know which task falls into this quadrant?

    Start by analyzing your priorities, and then establish if it falls within the ‘do it now’ criteria. If the task is achievable within a day, or within 24 to 48 hours, it’s urgent.

    Another approach you can adopt in prioritizing tasks in this category is to adopt the “eat the frog” principle by Mark Twain. This principle recommends that you do the most urgent activities as soon as you wake up.

    Here’s a practical example.

    Let’s say you need to draft a content strategy and submit a report to your manager. It’s Saturday, and the deadline for submission is Monday. Can we say the activity is urgent? Definitely!

    Schedule

    The second quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Schedule. The Prioritization Matrix classifies tasks in this category as important but not that urgent.

    They are long-term objectives and tasks with no immediate deadline. Those tasks could include meditation, journaling, studying, family time, and exercising.

    You can plan out activities in this quadrant for some other period. For instance, you should exercise for good health, but you can allocate time to do it.

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    Schedule these activities in such a way that they don’t transfer to the “Do” or “Urgent” quadrant. Ensure you have sufficient time to carry them out.

    Delegate

    The third quadrant of the prioritization matrix is Delegate.

    These tasks are not important to you but are quite urgent for others. This is where teamwork comes into play.

    You can technically perform tasks in this category, but it makes sense to delegate them. Delegating tasks will ensure you have more time to pursue activities in your first two quadrants.

    You should also monitor the tasks you have delegated. It will only amount to a sheer waste of time if you don’t have a tracking system for delegated tasks.

    Eliminate

    The last quadrant highlights your productivity killers. They are tasks that are not important to your goals and not urgent. The only way to boost your productivity is to eliminate them.

    Some examples are constantly checking your phone, watching movies, or playing video games.

    They could also be bad habits that you need to identify and delete from your daily and weekly schedule.

    Successful people have learned how to prioritize and stick to what’s important. They have learned to find a better person for a task or eliminate less significant tasks.

    Let’s consider two inspiring personalities that have designed their prioritization system.

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    Warren Buffet developed a two-list prioritization model to determine which task deserves his best attention. The bottom line is bypassing things that are important and useful but not top of the priorities.

    Mark Ford, a business advisor, marketer, self-made millionaire, and author devised his strategy:

    “Start work on the most crucial priority, take a break, work on the second most important task, take a break, then sort out the less important activities and any tasks he received from other individuals by afternoon.” [3]

    How to Use The Prioritization Matrix

    Using the Prioritization Matrix can be tricky if you’re new at it, but by following a few simple steps, you can learn to utilize it in the best way possible.

    1. List and Rank Your Priorities

    Highlight all the tasks you need to carry out in a day. Then, classify them with weighted criteria based on urgency and importance.

    Identify any activity that requires prompt action. I’m referring to a task that if you don’t complete that day, it could produce a grave consequence. For instance, if you don’t submit your content strategy, other content writers cannot work. It means you need to check for high-priority dependencies.

    2. Define the Value

    The next step is to examine the importance and assess which of them impacts your business or organization the most. As a rule of thumb, you can check which tasks possess higher priority over others. For instance, you need to attend to client’s requirements before you take care of any internal work.

    You can also estimate value by examining how the task impacts the people and customers in the organization. In a nutshell, the more impact a task has on people or the organization, the higher the priority.

    3. Take out the Most Challenging Task

    Procrastination is not a symptom of laziness, but avoidance is. The truth is that you will typically avoid tasks you don’t want to do. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, once said he would take out the most dreaded task first thing when he got to the office.

    Brian Tracy called these tasks the frogs you need to eat. That will remove the nagging dread, which mounts pressure on you when you postpone necessary tasks[4]. This is where the Prioritization Matrix can help; eat the “Do” frogs immediately.

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    If you need help overcoming procrastination, check out this article.

    4. Know What’s Important to You

    As long as you are in this cosmos, you will always encounter different choices that may be contradictory to your goals. For instance, a fantastic promotion that requires excessive travel will isolate you from important relationships. If you are not priority-conscious, you may accept it, even though your family is your priority.

    Therefore, it makes sense to identify what is important to you and to prepare yourself not to compromise those important things for immediate pleasure or gain.

    Yogi Berra captioned it this way:

    “If you do not know your destination, you might end up somewhere else.”

    5. Establish Regular “No Work” Time

    YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki established a rule not to check her emails between 6 pm and 9 pm. According to a CNN Business report, she was the first woman to request maternity leave when Google just got started. She prioritizes dinner time with her family despite being the CEO of YouTube[5].

    Is it possible to cut out time for our relationships and interests outside of work?

    Of course, and that’s why you need to set out your “no work” time. This approach will enable you to renew your energy levels for the next task. Also, you will be in the best position to introspect as you are not in your usual work zone.

    6. Know When to Stop

    You can achieve everything on your list sometimes. After you have prioritized your workload and assessed your estimates, remove the remaining tasks from your priority list and focus on your most urgent and important tasks.

    Conclusion

    It’s not enough to be successful at work. Ensure you make out time for your family and an important relationship in your life.

    Getting started and finding time may be tricky, but with some practice using the Prioritization Matrix, you’ll find that you are more productive and better able to divide your time between the things that are important to you.

    More Tips on Prioritizing

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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