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Last Updated on June 11, 2020

How to Stop Wasting Time and Be More Productive

How to Stop Wasting Time and Be More Productive

If a colleague came to your desk, picked up your wallet and removed $10 without asking you, would you be outraged? Yet, if a colleague came up to you and started asking you about how your weekend went, you would be perfectly okay with it.

In the first scenario, someone took $10 of your money; in the second, someone took ten minutes of your time. You can always earn more money but you will never earn more time.

We do similar things to ourselves. We feel guilty if we go out and spend money on a new device only to find after a few weeks, we are no longer using the device. But we think nothing of spending two hours crawling through our social media feeds looking at nothing in particular.

For many, the belief is money is their greatest asset, but the reality is your greatest asset is time. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you have no time to enjoy it. You will never be able to take your money with you when you finally run out of time.

What does wasting time really mean? A good way to measure this is to look at how you are spending your time each day.

If you are going through each day aimlessly—waking up at the very last minute, gulping down some coffee, dashing out of the door to go to a job that doesn’t inspire you or take you towards your goals, spending your lunch break complaining to your colleagues about how you hate your job and returning home at the end of the day to sit exhausted on the sofa while consuming hours of pointless entertainment on your TV or phone… you are wasting time.

If you feel your day has been wasted, then it probably was. You are not making the most of your time each day.

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Here’s what you can do from now on to stop wasting time:

1. Have a Plan for the Day

The biggest time waste is not having any kind of plan for the day or week. When we don’t have a plan for the day, we just drift through the day reacting to anything that comes our way and not making any progress towards our goals or purpose.

We watch the news and let politicians anger us and then get involved in political discussions with people we don’t know who do not share our views. These ‘discussions’ frustrate us, cause our negative emotions to rise and leaves us feeling angry and empty.

If you stopped and asked yourself why you were getting involved in such discussions, you would probably discover there is no reason at all. It is just a waste of time. You are not likely to persuade a person who does not share your political beliefs to change theirs.

If politics is important to you, then become a politician. If not, stay away from these ‘discussions’. They are not going to change anything and are just a waste of your time.

2. Be Aware of Your ‘Time Suckers’

Being aware of where your ‘time suckers’ are is the first step to making the most of your available time. Starting with the basics, we should be doing work that inspires us. If your current job does not inspire you, investing some time to find a vocation that does inspire you would be a good use of your time.

Watching how much time you are spending on social media is another area to be aware of. Are you spending too much time scrolling through your social media feeds? If so, perhaps you should be limiting the amount of time you spend there each day.

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How much time do you spend in front of the TV each day? If your daily routine involves coming home from work, mentally exhausted only to turn on the TV and sit there for the next three of four hours mindlessly watching shows you have no interest in; you are wasting your time.

3. Begin the Day with Intention

If you start the day with intention with a set of meaningful objectives to complete each day, you are maximizing your time.

For example, if you wake up in the morning with a plan to spend thirty minutes exercising, one hour studying Italian and a couple of hours meeting with your friends, you are making good use of your time. (And that’s only three and a half hours of your day!)

Health and fitness, education and relationship building are not wasteful activities. All you need do is to look at your calendar before you go to bed, see where you are going to be the next day and add in the activities you want to do that day.

By completing your objectives for the day, you will feel you have had a meaningful day, and from that will flow a lot of positive energy. It will inspire you to do more of the same the next day.

Having a couple of objectives that improves you as a person, elevates your positive emotions and maintains your health is all you need to make sure you are making the most of your time.

Take a look at this guide to find your intention: How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up

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4. Be in a Proactive State

Maximizing your time each day is all about switching from being in a reactive state to being in a proactive state.

A reactive state is where you allow events outside your control to control what you do and how you feel. Consuming social media, negative news, getting involved in pointless debates and allowing email to control what you do each day at work.

A proactive state is where you start the day with intention. You intend to do some exercise, improve your knowledge and you know what work you will do that day. You don’t allow events outside your control affect your mood and you avoid pointless debates about politics, current affairs or celebrity gossip.

If you do not have a plan for the day, you are going to be in a reactive state.

Having a plan for the day does not need to be overly complex. All you need is to select a few activities that will energize you, activities that you will look forward to doing and will improve your life in some way or another.

Starting your workday with the intention to get a stuck project moving forward again, spending thirty minutes outside in nature with no online distractions, just enjoying the freedom being offline for thirty minutes will do so much for your overall wellbeing and giving yourself one hour each day for education—an online course, a book on psychology or learning to beat match on a CDJ.

Just picking a few of these activities to do each day maximizes your time, improves your mood and gives you a sense that you have not wasted your day.

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Learn more about how to plan for the day in this article: How Setting Daily Goals Makes You Achieve Big Success

Final Thoughts

The truth is, we do not have a lot of time. Human life is relatively short and wasting time on online distractions, getting involved in meaningless discussions about things we have no control over, and drifting through our days with no plan or objective is like withdrawing $100 from your bank account each day, and throwing it away in the garbage can.

You can’t afford to do that and you can’t afford to throw away those precious hours we are given every day. You will never get them back.

So, from now on, become aware of how you are spending your days, avoid meaningless discussions about things you have no control over; start the day with a plan – self-education, exercise, relationship building; move towards a proactive state rather than being stuck in a reactive state; and be aware of how limited your time is.

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Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2020

15 Strategies for an Effective To-Do List

15 Strategies for an Effective To-Do List

One of the age-old productivity techniques around is the classic and effective to do list, and for good reason. It’s one of the most productive ways for you and everyone else to get anything done. Whether it’s a mental list or something that you are writing down, a to do list is an essential productivity tool.

At the same time, it is one of the most confusing productivity tools around. Many people discredit this for various reasons and don’t believe that a to do list is any good. But my argument is that maybe you and other people aren’t making an effective to do list, so here we will go over how to get one done right.

Why Bother With an Effective To-Do List?

You’ve Been Using Them Wrong

Before jumping into strategies to make an effective to do list, it’s worth knowing why you should bother making one. The first important point is that many people have been making to do lists all wrong.

Two of the most common mistakes are:

  • People use lists as a measurement of whether they are productive or not.
  • They put too many items on the list.

It’s understandable why you or other people do this, though. A to do list is a productivity tool, so it makes sense to pile on tasks. However, the brain doesn’t work that way. If you have a lot of tasks on your list, it feels like torture as the list never ends.

At first, it can feel nice that you always have something to do, but keep in mind that you only have so much time in a day. It’s important that you place more value in quality work rather than sheer quantity.

On that same note, if you are someone who has a tendency to seek validation, a to do list can be tough. There will be days where you won’t get everything done due to life events. This creates unnecessary pressure and sends you into a stress whirlwind.

It Helps You Stay Focused

When you build an effective to-do list, the main goal of these lists is to provide clarity and focus. If you’ve been doing them wrong, you may have noticed that you are focusing in on a task on your to do list and getting it done.

This may be overshadowed by the multiple items on your list, but you are focusing on a task during a given time. You really see this in action when you consider having a shorter to do list, though.

I understand that a to do list isn’t for every single person, but this focus is helpful to people when starting out. You’re still not certain about your goals or the path that you want to take. You may also struggle to determine the next step to work towards.

A to do list is a guide you can refer back to it whenever you need it. Furthermore, the techniques that I’ll be mentioning below will make to do lists more effective for you.

15 Strategies for an Effective To Do List

You’ll begin to see how powerful a to do list is when you consider the various strategies you can incorporate in one. This is your to do list, so pick from the strategies below to find what suits you. If you’re not certain, don’t be afraid to experiment and mishmash several combinations.

Remember that the road to success is one with many branching paths, so the methods you use are your choice.

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1. Break the List Into Two Parts

The first strategy is to break a list into two parts. These two parts are called dailies and to do’s.

Dailies are the everyday tasks that you want to develop more. For example, if you want to make a habit out of exercising in the morning, a daily task could be following a 15-minute workout routine or going for an hour-long walk.

Your to do’s are non-daily tasks that you need to be getting done at some point. Maybe you need to prepare a report at work or make a presentation. You can put that into your to do column.

This is an effective strategy because it saves all the clutter that most people gravitate towards. As mentioned before, people stuff their lists, and a lot of it is usually tasks they you would do anyway, like going grocery shopping or dropping the kids off at a friend’s place.

2. Put a Limit on Items

If you find breaking your list into two parts too much, I’ll suggest brevity to be a virtue when making these lists. You can set any number of items, but the key is that you do have a set limit in mind. Some people have no more than seven while others go as low as three. Do what makes you feel comfortable.

The idea behind this is to narrow in on the most important tasks that you need to accomplish that day. Of course, there are other things that you’ll be doing during the day, and that’s fine, but you want to prioritize the items that on your to do list before the day is done.

3. Use Checklists for Complex Tasks

If you’re already making narrow lists but are putting in tougher tasks, my suggestion is to break that task down. Whether it’s full-on steps you need to take or jotting down important details that need to be present is up to you.

Either way, this allows you to ensure that you’re getting everything done the proper way and that you’re not missing any key details or steps.

4. Tackle MITs First

MIT is the “most important task.” Another way to look at this is to tackle the largest and most intimidating task first[1]. Why you want to do this goes back to how our brain works.

You may feel compelled to do the easier tasks first before getting to the bigger task, but the problem is that these tasks—even the easy ones—drain your energy. Furthermore, if you have a really big task to complete, chances are that’s going to be on your mind over the course of the day. That means you’re spending more energy just thinking about it.

All of that wouldn’t be a problem if that big intimidating task was dealt with first thing in the morning.

5. Create a “Done” List

Another interesting approach to consider is to have a “done” list. This is a list of the tasks that you’ve completed from your to do list. Many people find it satisfying to merely cross an item off their list and be done with it, but depending on what you’re putting on those lists, a done list could be inspiring.

Imagine if you are someone who places above-average difficult tasks on your to do lists, activities that require an hour or two to complete properly. This can inspire you to do more if, after a day of working, you notice just how much you accomplished over the course of the day via this list.

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6. Make Your List Easy to Spot

From colorful paper to posting it in an obvious spot, you want your list to be in a place where you can spot it easily. Mind you, you don’t need to have this list in front of you all the time as it could create unnecessary stress. But setting it to one side is a nice idea—a glance to the side and you know exactly what needs to get done.

7. Add Gaming Elements to It

If pen and paper isn’t your thing when making to do lists, there are several apps that can guide you along as well. The beauty of to do list apps is that there is more room for creativity, and some of the developers incorporate games into them.

For example, Todoist has an achievement system where individuals earn badges as they complete more tasks. There’s also Bounty Tasker, which makes you feel like your tasks are side quests in a video game.

8. Give Yourself Deadlines

Work expands to fill time allotted.

It’s an old philosophy that still rings true with how we are productive. For example, say you’re assigned to write a report, and you’re given a week to do it. You’ll likely work on it steadily throughout the week. Or if you’re a procrastinator, you’ll put it off until the night before and finish it.

But what if you’re given that same task and only allotted an hour to complete it? You’ll likely get the report done, but you’ll prioritize the main, important points and highlight those rather than fill it with unnecessary fluff.

The whole point of this is that with your goals and the items on your to do list, you want to have deadlines. When it comes to to do lists, my suggestion is to give yourself a day to complete the tasks there. This is enough pressure and incentive for you to work hard on them.

9. Add Tasks When They’re Fresh

Another strategy is to assign yourself tasks even when you are working on something else. Keep in mind it’s not something you have to do right now, but this can help with people who are struggling to think about what to focus on next.

This is along the same lines as when you hear something interesting and you write it down. It’s a wise thing to do as it saves you the bother of having to dwell on that idea rather than focusing on the task at hand. It also saves you from having to recall what the task is if you’re the type to write up the next day’s to do list at the end of the day.

10. Be Comfortable With Revising Your To-Do List

Depending on your overall mindset, another good strategy is to look at your to do list and make changes to it. If you’re practicing the previous strategy, there may be a possibility that your to do list is getting lengthy and you’re setting unrealistic expectations that you can finish it all.

By giving yourself the opportunity to revise your to do list, your allowing yourself to spread out your tasks rather than have them clumped up. This helps your mindset as you’re not overwhelmed by the list.

11. Write Tasks, Not Goals

You should have separate lists for your tasks and your goals. The idea is to not put goals on your task list at all.

While tasks can help you lead to your goals, goals are larger desires and not something that you can achieve over the course of the day. For example, “learn to speak French” is a goal; however, you can break that into a task by saying “read French content for 15 minutes” or “watch a movie in French.”

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This also extends to objectives, too. You can see these as milestones. Going back to the example of speaking French, an objective can be, “discuss my favorite foods with someone in French.” It’s the desired outcome that you’re looking for from your practice.

12. Keep To Do Lists Brief

Here, brief means scannable in that you can quickly look over at the list and know what needs to get done. How you can do this is by focusing on the keywords of specific tasks and not dragging them out. For example, say your garage is a mess and you want to clean it up. Instead of writing a lengthy sentence, keep it short and write something like “clean garage for 30 min.” or simply “clean garage.”

With this strategy, you’re spending less time writing the task down when making the to do list. Furthermore, you’re relying on trigger words to get your mind to recall specific details for that task.

13. Have Multiple Lists

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to have separate lists for various things, like having a separate list for goals, objectives, daily tasks, and to do’s. Another way you can look at it is to have a system where you are consulting from three lists.

These lists are:

A Master List

This is where any of your long-term goals are, things like moving to a new house, getting out of debt, or building a business. These are things that will take a year or more to accomplish.

A Weekly Project List

These are things that you want to accomplish by the end of the week. These are things that will move the needle slowly towards some of the items on your master list. From the previous example, these could be doing research on getting a business loan, house hunting, or setting up a savings account.

A High-Impact List

Lastly, these are tasks that need to be accomplished today. Whether they are related to the previous two lists or not doesn’t matter. This is where high priority tasks are placed. Examples can be calling specific people or working on a project or a report that’s due soon.

By having these lists in place, you’ll be referring often to the weekly project list and the high-impact list and determining whether a weekly task should be moved to that list.

As you do that, you’ll begin to notice how much your daily life has an impact on those goals that are written on that master list. That can be inspiring since what you are doing is actively bringing you closer to your goals.

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14. Don’t Ramp up Difficulty Until You’re Ready

Some of the strategies mentioned can seem easy on the surface, but they require a lot of mental fortitude. Motivation is an unusual thing, and our brains are wired to process a certain way. If you’re looking for genuine change and something that sticks, the best principle is to keep things simple and easy at first.

It may be a drag, but you don’t often realize how those baby steps can play a crucial role in you being able to start running and chasing your dreams. Don’t be ashamed if you have to start off with simple tasks for yourself. Even going back to daily tasks that you do anyway like showering, doing the laundry or shopping for food is a good way to start.

Putting those items on the list at first makes you feel like you’ve had a productive day. From there, you can challenge yourself with more difficult tasks. Incorporate an exercise routine or spend a half-hour on a task that means something to you.

The idea is to ease yourself into a routine so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

15. Measure Your Time

The last strategy that can help you is to measure your time. How long does it take you to finish a specific task? You don’t need to go for specifics, but make a point of timing yourself over the course of a week and get the average time spent on that task.

Why is this important? This information can be broken down in two ways.

The first way is to use it as a marker to boost efficiency. Depending on the task, you can find new ways to achieve the same results in a shorter time.

It also allows you to know what you can do in a given day. If you know that it takes you an hour or so to go through your entire morning routine, you’ll be more conscious about how you move through that routine.

Furthermore, if you know what tasks you’ll be doing the next day, you can better manage your time since you know roughly how much time it’ll take to get everything done.

Final Thoughts

Building an effective to do list is not as easy as it seems. There are all kinds of unique strategies to try out, some more challenging that others. However, if you are motivated to use this productivity tool to make your life easier, then it will get easier. All that you need to do is keep putting effort and experiment and reevaluate when necessary. So get started with your to do lists today.

More Tips on Using an Effective To Do List

Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews Digital Content Production via unsplash.com

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