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15 Tips to Make Today the Day You Finish Your To-Do List

15 Tips to Make Today the Day You Finish Your To-Do List
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You’ve seen it before. Every checkmark only leaves two more unfinished tasks. Your to-do list has become an living organism, spawning more and more work while leaving you less and less time to finish. Is it possible to stop your to-do list, or will it just become an unstoppable blob of extra work?

Your best weapon against the rising tide of to-do is dedicating a day to destroying that list. Instead of wandering around, attacking various projects before putting them down, you go for the kill. Set up a massive to-do list and wipe it clean.

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Few things are more satisfying than after a day of ending your to-do list. Here are a few tips to get you started:

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  • Clear your schedule. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you give yourself a large chunk of time. A to-do ending day can’t be filled with all the regular errands of your life. The entire day needs to be focused on killing that list, so pick a day where you can have complete control over your time.
  • Wake up early. Building momentum is critical. Even if waking up at 5 am isn’t a usual event for you, it can be helpful here. Which do you think will give you the right start: dragging yourself out of bed at ten o’clock, or forcing yourself to start moving at six?
  • Collect your to-do list. If you have tasks and projects scattered over different parts of your life, you need to collect them into one list. One list detailing everything you want to have accomplished, on one piece of paper you can hold in front of you.
  • Know the end. What does being finished look like? Every task should have a clear goal and purpose beyond just getting done. You can spend an entire day attacking your to-do list and accomplishing nothing if you aren’t clear on the final picture.
  • Put hard tasks first. Pick your biggest and most difficult tasks and start on them first. Putting off the hard work is a sure sign it won’t get done. By putting the difficult tasks first, you also build a momentum that allows you to focus easily.
  • Isolate yourself. Lock yourself in a room, unplug your phone and internet if you have to. Anything to ensure that interruptions won’t break your focus. A few hours of complete focus can accomplish what would take several days of multitasking.
  • Set your rest breaks. Working continuously for several hours can be difficult to do with mentally straining work, especially if you aren’t used to it. My suggestion is to set short, but meaningful breaks in advance so you won’t be tempted to procrastinate.
  • Match breaks with tasks, not time. Your breaks should match up with the large to-do chunks on your list, not at a specific time. If you plan to finish a report you expect to take ninety minutes, finish it in one chunk. Taking a break while working on a major task will only break your flow.
  • Be patient when accelerating. It can take time to build up speed. When I write an article, it can take me up to fifteen minutes to get a clear idea on what I want to write. During this build-up time, the temptation is to quit or move on to something easier. Avoid that temptation and be patient.
  • Give yourself meaningful rewards. If you finish your to-do list, take a break. Go out and have fun, watch a television show, meet up with friends or just stare blankly at a wall. Feeling the urge to be completely productive 24/7 is an easy way to ensure you never do.
  • Does it need to be done? Cross off any items that lack long-term importance. Purify your to-do list so it only contains tasks that will be significant months and years from now. If your to-do list doesn’t seem important, it probably isn’t.
  • Energize your diet. Engineer your food and exercise routine to give you the energy you need throughout the day. Eat lighter foods and avoid simple carbohydrates (which spike your blood glucose and then drop it). Drink plenty of water and eat smaller meals more frequently. Your goal is to create a diet that will keep your fuel levels even throughout the day.
  • To exercise or not to exercise? Exercise is definitely a good idea. But whether you should bother heading to the gym on an intense project attacking day depends. I would say that a quick run can give you enough added energy to make up for the time loss. But if your exercise is long and prescheduled, you might want to leave it out to focus completely on your to-do list.
  • Collect resources ahead of time. The night before you plan your epic battle against your to-do, prepare. Make sure you have all the right tools, information and resources to get the job done. Nothing feels worse than a half-finished list because you needed to wait on information from a third party.
  • Chunk, don’t spread. Don’t spread tasks over all your waking hours like butter on toast. Intensity trumps time-management. Get as much done as possible and give yourself large chunks for both work and play. Spreading yourself too thin results in only a half-effort.

A half-day is often enough. The surprising thing about creating a to-do list day is, that if you do it right, it takes far less time than you expected. I’m usually impressed that I can accomplish my entire list by the late afternoon when I follow these suggestions.

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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