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How to Actually Get Things Done with Your To-do List

How to Actually Get Things Done with Your To-do List

For the original unedited article, visit Greatist.

Now that the sparkly ball has long since hit the ground, we’re supposedly off and running on those New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, between work, family, and other real-life obligations, achieving our goals is almost always harder than it seems. But the problem may have started way back in 2012, when we first jotted down those goals on a piece of loose leaf or a dirty bar napkin. Creating an efficient to-do list is a feat in itself, and that’s where we come in. We’ve prepared 13 tips to help you organize your life into a manageable list, then cross off each entry in time to make some new resolutions for next year.

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TO DO OR NOT TO DO — THE NEED-TO-KNOW

List-making is a pretty personal thing. Some of us border on obsessive, organizing even our bathroom runs into a series of numbered bullet points. Others prefer to wing it, writing important telephone numbers on the backs of their hands. But even the most basic outline of must-do tasks can help us tackle our most important goals. For one thing, writing out a bunch of to-do’s forces us to set concrete goals (take out the trash), which can be way more effective than just thinking about vague objectives (get cleaner). Plus, making a written list can help us remember important information (meaning that trash won’t sit waiting in the kitchen for weeks).

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The problem is that even those of us who believe fervently in the power of to-do lists might not know how to make a successful one. Luckily Greatist is here to help, with a step-by-step guide to creating — and completing — an awesome list of stuff to get done.

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JUST TO-DO IT — YOUR ACTION PLAN

  • Pick a medium. To-do lists come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s all about what works for the individual. Some research suggests writing information by hand helps us remember it better, but if you last picked up a pen in 1995, fear not: There’s a huge range of digital apps that help create personal to-do lists.
  • Make multiples. Create a few lists of stuff that needs to get done. One should be a master list, with every item you’d like to accomplish in the long-term: Clean out the closet, sign up for a language class, etc. Another can be a weekly project list, with everything that needs to take place in the next seven days. The third should be a HIT (that’s high-impact tasks) list, with the tasks that need to get done today: Call Aunt Sue for her birthday, pick up the dry cleaning, finish that presentation for work. Every day, see which items from the master list and weekly project list should move to the HIT list.
  • Keep it simple. There’s nothing more intimidating than a mile-long to-do list. And, realistically, it’s impossible to get that much stuff done in 24 hours anyway. One trick for keeping a HIT list simple is to make a list of stuff you want to do today and slice it in half. There shouldn’t be more than 10 items remaining; the rest can go on the weekly projects list or the master list.
  • Meet the MITs. That’s “most important tasks.” Start the list with at least two items that absolutely must get done today, so you don’t end up vacuuming instead of finishing a project report due tomorrow. Even if the rest of the list stays untouched, the really meaningful stuff will get finished.
  • Start easy. Even before those MITs (see above), stick a few simple items on the list. “Fold clothes,” “wash breakfast dishes,” and “shower” are all good examples. Even crossing off silly stuff helps us start the day feeling super-productive.
  • Break it down. Goals such as “work on research paper” are much too vague and intimidating, meaning we’ll be too afraid to actually start tackling them. One way to reduce the fear factor and make goals seem more manageable is to break projects into smaller tasks. Instead of “work on research paper,” try something more specific, such as “write first half of chapter three” on Monday and “write second half of chapter three” on Tuesday.
  • Stay specific. All to-do’s should have these qualities in common: They’re physical actions; they can be finished in one sitting; and they’re tasks that only the to-do-list writer can do. For general projects that require lots of time or other people’s help, list specific steps you can take toward your goal. Instead of “save the animals,” try “write cover letter for internship at World Wildlife Fund.”
  • Include it all. For every task on the list, include as much information as possible so there’s literally no excuse for not getting the job done. For example, if the task involves calling someone, include that person’s phone number on the list so you won’t waste time scrambling for it later.
  • Time it. Now that you’ve made the list (and checked it twice), go back and put a time estimate next to every item. It might even help to turn the to-do list into a kind of schedule with specific times and places. So, for example: laundry 4-6 p.m. at Suds & Stuff, clean out inbox 6-7 p.m. at Starbucks on 6th Ave. When time’s up, it’s up; there’s no spending six hours at the Laundromat.
  • Don’t stress. Every master list has a few tasks on it that we’ve been meaning to do for days, weeks, maybe even years — but haven’t yet. Try to figure out why not in order to learn what steps are necessary for actually completing the task. Not calling Uncle Pat out of fear of getting stuck on the phone for the whole afternoon? Replace “Call Uncle Pat” with “figure out a way to get off the phone with Uncle Pat.” This way the big task will seem easier, and eventually get done.
  • Make it public. Sometimes the best way to stay accountable is to have someone watching over us. Try sharing that to-do list, whether by posting it on the family refrigerator or setting up a digital calendar that everyone on the work team can access.
  • Schedule scheduling. One of the trickiest aspects of the to-do list is actually sitting down to make one. Pick a time every day, whether it’s the morning before everyone else wakes up, the hour right before going to bed, or lunchtime, when you can organize all your tasks and determine what still needs to be accomplished.
  • Go in with the old. One way to boost productivity is to remind ourselves how productive we were yesterday. So keep a written list of everything you accomplished the day before, even the small stuff.
  • Start fresh. Make a new list every day so the same old items don’t clog up the agenda. It’s also a useful way to make sure we actually get something done every 24 hours and don’t just spend time decorating the paper with fancy highlighters.
  • Be flexible. Pro tip: Always leave about 15 minutes of “cushion time” in between items on the to-do list or calendar in case something pops up (say the washing machine overflows or the computer crashes). And if a crisis does strike, the most important thing is to remember to stop and breathe. You’ve probably already accomplished at least one MIT — you’ll get the rest under control!
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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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