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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

Are You Making This Major Daily To-Do List Mistake?

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Are You Making This Major Daily To-Do List Mistake?

Odds are if you’re reading this post, you probably use some kind of daily to-do list system in your life, right? The question is:

Are you using that system to its maximum potential? Are you getting everything done on that list each day?

If you’re like a lot of people, you use a daily to-do list and you may even check some things off each day, but you may be making a mistake that many people make that causes a HUGE problem not only in terms of productivity, but also in the fundamental way you organize your thoughts.

Don’t feel bad. It’s a common mistake, and I’m here to help you fix it.

Are You Making This Major Daily To-Do List Mistake?

Consider this question for a moment:

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What does your daily to-do list contain?

Is it sufficiently broken down into manageable tasks and tasks only? Can you realistically complete those tasks in a maximum of a couple of hours each?

If not, then you’re not using this system to its maximum potential.

How to Construct a Proper Daily To-Do List

A daily to-do list should be composed of small tasks that don’t take more than a couple of hours at most to complete. Otherwise, they have no place here.

This is where a lot of people go wrong. They use daily to-do lists as a reminder of the things they need to work on, but their use of lists ends there. They fail to ever separate the large projects on their lists from the small tasks they need to accomplish in the first place.

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The result is often a major short-term focus, and is a huge reason why a lot of people in this world fail to think in a proactive fashion. They think a day at a time, and never a step ahead.

See, by not separating out your long-term goals and projects onto other forms of productivity documentation, the only list you’ll ever have is your daily list, which at this point is only a reminder of things to work on. It’s not being used in a productive fashion to help you achieve your goals.

Your Long-Term Productivity Lists

See, a lot of people don’t realize that there are more types of lists than just a daily list that you can use to enhance your productivity. And not only will they enhance your productivity by allowing you to keep your to-do list more clean, but they’ll also allow you to be a much more of a long-term thinker, and will allow you to take control of your day rather than let your day control you.

Consider this structure of lists to arrange your productivity, rather than the typical “daily list only” approach that most people use:

The Master Goal List

Use a Master Goal list as a long-term list of 90 – 180 days to plan out what you want to accomplish in this time frame. What do you want to get done in the next 3 – 6 months? What are the things that are going to make a huge impact on your job or your life?

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These are the items that should go on your Master Goal List. This is the “What” and the “When” of what you want to accomplish.

The Weekly Project List

Use a Weekly Project list as a breakdown of the items on your Master Goal list. These items have a project focus as well, but are broken down into smaller subsets of the large items on your Master Goal list. This allows you to see what you need to work on from week to week to reach your goals and will allow you to start seeing how your daily schedule can be arranged.

Your Daily To-Do List

Then finally, use your Daily To-Do List to break down your Weekly Project List into small tasks that you can accomplish in just a couple of hours each. These tasks filter down from your other two lists to ultimately enable you to complete each project you wish to accomplish. Think of this list as the “How” of what you want to get done.

The Result?

It might seem a little strange to keep three lists, but look at what happens as the result.

Suddenly, with the creation of your long-term lists, your daily list starts to mean something. It becomes free of long-term projects and you only include the small tasks that you need to get done each day to allow you to complete your projects. You’ll start crossing off everything on your daily list every day.  Then you’ll relate those back to completing your projects and eventually your ultimate long-term goals.

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The result is your daily to-do list goes from being just a dumping ground of everything you have to do, to being a key driver of your productivity and success.

And that’s the ultimate goal of “lifehacking” – to enable you to get things done!

More Tips on Getting Things Done

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Cody Wheeler

Cody is a self-improvement blogger at Academy Success, the place to learn life skills you don't learn in school.

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Last Updated on October 28, 2021

How to Prioritize Work When Everything Seems Important

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How to Prioritize Work When Everything Seems Important

Even with all of the advances in modern technology, there are only so many hours in the day to cram in everything that we need to do. A simple “to-do” list doesn’t always cut it, and it’s easy to feel adrift in a sea of tasks without an oar. The key to managing all of the work responsibilities on your plate is prioritization.

In theory, prioritization is pretty simple: write down what you need to do and then start doing it.

Here’s the thing about prioritization though — it’s always changing. Every project manager knows that things come up, fall through, and get moved around. How we adapt to those changes can determine the success or failure of our effectiveness in completing that ever-growing to-do list.

So how to prioritize work when everything seems important?

In this article, we’ll look at various ways to help you become a master of time management at work and keep all of those proverbial spinning plates from crashing to the ground.

1. Write out All the Things You Need to Do

Becoming a master of prioritizing will have numerous benefits. You’ll get more done, climb the job ladder faster, and have more free time to enjoy life outside of work. It all starts, though, with making a list of what you need to get done.

Write down the things you need to get done at work today, tomorrow, this week, and this month. Don’t worry about the order — we’ll get to that in a minute — just write down everything.

2. Start by Asking: What’s Really Important Here?

Chances are, you have a pretty full list and that a good deal of them seem like the most important thing or at least top priorities. Some of these tasks may very well be top priorities, but others can probably wait. And they’re going to have to if you’re ever going to tackle the top priorities on your list.

Each priority will fall under: do, defer, delegate, and delete. You don’t necessarily need to assign each priority a label just yet, as there are a few methods to help you cut through the fog.

3. The Triangle of Cost, Scope, and Time

One method that effective project managers use to help with prioritizing tasks on a large-scale project is by looking at each task as an equilateral triangle. Each priority’s side can be measured by its cost (resources needed to complete it), scope (how big the task is) and time (how long it will take to complete). Here’s a graph showing the Triple Constraint, illustrated by the site Project Manager:[1]

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    You may be able to change a particular side of the triangle, perhaps reducing the cost needed to finish it, but it will likely involve altering the scope or deadline.

    Put it to use:

    If a deadline and scope can’t be changed on a task, then perhaps that project takes top priority and compromise will have to be made with cost or the scope of other tasks.

    4. Apply the Eisenhower Matrix

    “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” —President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    It was out of this quote that the Eisenhower Matrix of prioritization[2] was formed. Remember those do, defer, delegate, and delete labels we mentioned?

    Here’s where they come into play as illustrated in a graph made by James Clear:[3]

      • Urgent & Important = Do. As in, do it now.
      • Important & Not Urgent = Decide. Do it later, and decide when to do it.
      • Urgent & Not Important = Delegate. Give the task to somebody else.
      • Not Important & Not Urgent = Delete. Don’t waste your time on it.

      5. Eat the Frog… Trust Me!

      If you allow procrastination to set in, then everything else will slow down and you’ll accomplish less. Mark Twain advised that if you eat the frog first (that to-do list item you’re avoiding) then the rest of the day will feel like smooth sailing.

      How you start your day can really establish how productive you are. Identifying and knocking out your most important task (MIT) first will set you up for accomplishing everything else.

      6. Make Your Prioritization Precise With the ABCDE Method

      Everything might seem important, but it’s not and there’s a way to find out what is and what isn’t.

      Look at each item on your list and give it a letter between A and E (with A being the highest priority). Now give each A a number in correspondence with the order you’ll do it in.

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      Repeat the process until every task has a letter and a number. You’ll begin to notice with more clarity what really is a top priority and what’s a D2.

      7. Keep Things Realistic

      There’s a good chance that you’re not going to get to every single task on your list at the precise time you would like. Things change and often when you least expect them to, so it’s important to be flexible and realistic with what you can do.

      If you find yourself so busy that you regularly lack the energy to accomplish your work, then you may need to take a closer look at what can be delegated and deleted.

      8. Identify Your 20% Task

      The Pareto principle states that to reach true efficiency and effectiveness nirvana, you should get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your effort. This can be easier said than done, but there are some tips you can use to put into practice.

      If you could only accomplish five things what would they be?

      Now take away three of those. What are they?

      Now pick just one.

      That’s an MIT.

      9. Stop Checking Your Email So Often

      You’ve probably heard it before, but when it comes to prioritizing work like a boss, it’s worth mentioning again.

      Stop checking your email so often. According to a survey of nearly 20,000 working professionals, the most successful ones had a very specific trait in common — they were incredibly good at managing incoming emails.[4] They knew how to filter which emails tied into their highest priorities and that’s what they focused on.

      Besides, don’t make checking emails the first thing to do at work! Here’s why.

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      10. Revise and Reevaluate

      Our lives are constantly changing and the stars are never going to always perfectly align for every single thing on your to-do list. Deadlines get pushed around, projects get dropped, and everyday life can get in the way.

      Senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Robert Pozen, recommends looking at your schedule for the next day each night before going to bed and revising and reevaluating your items as necessary.[5]

      11. Make the Most of Modern Technology

      An easy-to-use time management and planning tool can really help with knocking out all those priorities. No matter how busy your life is or how much is on your plate, keeping it all organized is going to be essential for getting most of it done.

      Maybe you’re a Google spreadsheets sort of person or perhaps you want an app with all the bells and whistles. There are plenty of options out there, so find one that works for you and put it to use.

      12. Take a Tip from Warren Buffet

      A big part of shortening the path to reaching those Mount Everest long-term goals is clearing out the clutter that gets in the way.

      Warren Buffet reportedly told his personal pilot to make a list of his top 25 goals.[6] He then told him to circle the five most important. Everything else was to be avoided as these things may have seemingly been important, but not of enough importance to deserve the same energy as the top five.

      13. Are You Delegating? Because You Should Be

      The “delegate” part of the four Ds can be tricky for some people who may not feel comfortable asking for help, but it’s a crucial skill to learn. Your boss may be able to help if you reach out. The intern or new hire may be eager to learn a new aspect of how your business functions. Somebody else on your team may be more skilled at a particular task than you.

      If you learn to become comfortable with delegating certain duties when needed, you’ll accomplish those MITs quicker.

      Learn how to delegate effectively in this guide: How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

      14. The Leaky Boat Conundrum

      Keep in mind when prioritizing those tasks just how valuable your time is. Time spent working towards the wrong priority is wasted time. It’s easy to start a project (the boat), but run into a change that alters its outcome or level of importance (the leak), yet we feel compelled to finish it and find ourselves paddling a sinking boat. Sometimes, the best idea is to move to a new boat rather than fix the leak.

      15. Apply the 5 Whys

      Developed by a Japanese industrialist,[7] this method for determining the importance of a priority is incredibly simple. Here’s the deal:

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      Write down the task and why it’s important.

      The fewer times you have to refer back to why the task is important, the more important it is.

      If you need to remind yourself why it’s important numerous times, the benefit of completing the task probably isn’t that great.

      Learn more about the 5 Whys technique here: How to Use the 5 Whys Method to Solve Problems Efficiently

      16. Don’t Let The Bumps Derail You

      There are going to be those days when the frog gets the best of you and everything on your plate looks like an MIT. Everybody has those.

      The important thing for any project manager, entrepreneur, or successful person in general, is going to be consistency when developing and working through that to-list.

      There will be leaky boats and times when there’s nobody to delegate. Take a step back, take a closer look at those work priorities, and stay focused .

      Bottom Line

      We only spend around 40 percent of our workday on primary tasks, with things like checking emails, meetings, and trivial tasks eating up the rest of the day. If you learn how to prioritize effectively, however, you’ll soon find that managing that giant to-do list is easier and finishing those must-do tasks happens quicker!

      More About Time Management

      Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

      Reference

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