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Last Updated on December 9, 2020

How to Create a To-Do List That Super Boosts Your Productivity

How to Create a To-Do List That Super Boosts Your Productivity

It’s 6:00 am, and you’ve just woken up. After showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work. You are feeling relaxed and happy. You have very high expectations for the day, and you want to be as productive with your to-do list as possible.

Fast forward to 2 pm the same day. You are working in a rush, and you barely had a chance to take a lunch break. You start to feel a bit stressed and tired because of the busy schedule. Besides, it seems that you have to go back to certain tasks and fix them because you didn’t have time to focus on them properly.

You wish you’d find a reset button so that you could start your day from all over with a different strategy.

What you probably experienced was this: you planned your day the night before, and you felt you were on top of your tasks. However, things started to go wrong when you kept adding tasks to your list, and finally your task list was many miles long. Your to-do list also contained tasks that were pretty much impossible to get done in one day.

The other point which contributed to your hectic and stressful day was not understanding how much time completing a particular task would take and when to execute the task. If you had this information, it would have been easier to figure out the right timing for executing the task.

Finally, there really wasn’t any flexibility in your plans. You forgot to add a buffer between tasks and understand that certain tasks are much larger than what they seem outside.

But you know what—these reasons alone weren’t the main reason for your stress and busyness. Keep reading to find out what that was.

What People Get Wrong About a To-Do List

Do you really know what you are supposed to do?

How much time did you actually spend on planning your day—was it just 5 minutes while the television set was distracting you?

If so, then this was probably the biggest reason why your day became so stressful.

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When you plan your days, you should truly understand the tasks you are about to d and what it takes to accomplish them. This is necessary, especially with important tasks, because you are able to make progress with the tasks that matter the most.

The lack of time spent on planning will also be shown as too many big tasks stuffed into your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the tasks into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This, in turn, makes you beat yourself up for not completing your task list.

Finally, don’t treat creating a task list like some secondary thing that you try to do as quickly as possible. In fact, when you pay more attention to your next day’s task list, the more likely the list is going to be realistic and less stressful for you.

Components of a Great To-Do List

When I talk about a good task list, I consider these characteristics to be part of it:

Balanced

The task list contains both important and less important tasks. Let’s face it: although we all would like to work on just important tasks (e.g. goal-related ones), we have to take care of the less important tasks as well (like running errands, taking care of your household, or other everyday stuff).

Enough Flexibility

What happens when you have planned a task, but you are unable to take care of it? Do you have a plan B in place? If not, try to figure out the alternative action you can take in these scenarios.

Time for Transitions

Understand that transition times also eat your time. Make sure that when you plan your task list, this time is also included in your plans. Adding some extra buffer between tasks will make your list more flexible and realistic.

Not Too Many Tasks for One Day

Giving you an exact figure on how many tasks you should have on your daily list is difficult. It depends on your situation, but I’m willing to say that anything between 5-10 tasks should be enough for a day.

Understand that certain tasks are very quick, so it’s easier to include more and organize your tasks on certain days. Just make sure that there are also important tasks on the list so that you are able to move on with your bigger projects.

Shield of Protection

Build a shield of protection around your task list so that as few tasks as possible can land to your list and that the number of items on your list won’t increase during the day.

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In the first case, try to eliminate the sources for your tasks. This is done by reducing your commitments and limiting the projects you have. The fact is that the more commitments (or projects) you have, the more likely they are going to end up as tasks for your daily list.

In the second case, make your list a closed one. I learned this concept by reading Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster. In order to create a closed task list, all you have to do is to draw a line under the last task on the list.

When you have done this, you are not allowed to add any new tasks to your list during the day. This ensures that the number of tasks is actually decreasing as the day goes on.

How to Create a To-Do List That Boosts Your Productivity

To make a list that you can actually accomplish the next day, do the following:

1. Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks

Go through your commitments and decide if you really need each one.

For instance, I was an active member of our local computer club in my hometown, but then I realized that I didn’t have enough time for that activity anymore. Although I’m still a member of the club, I don’t participate in its activities anymore. This has eliminated the tasks related to that commitment.

2. Take Your Time to Plan the List

Don’t rush creating your task list—spend some time on the planning phase. If required, isolate yourself for the planning part by going to a separate room in your home (or even going outside). This way, you can actually think the tasks through before you put them on your to-do list.

Try to spend at least 15 minutes with your list when you plan it.

3. Move Important Tasks to the Beginning

When planning your day, make sure that the important tasks are at the beginning of your list. This ensures that you get those tasks done as quickly as possible.

For instance, as a blogger, I make sure I have the content creation tasks at the beginning of my list. As soon as I wake up, I attack those tasks immediately, and they get done before I go to work.

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4. Track the Recurring Tasks

You might have recurring tasks on your list, but do you know how much time they take to accomplish?

If you don’t, make sure you do some time tracking to figure it out. This helps you to plan your day better, as you know how much time a task takes and if there is a certain time slot in your schedule when the task could be executed.

5. Batch Similar Tasks

Look at your list, and find out if there are similar tasks that you can batch-process. This way, you can get certain tasks off your list faster and easier.

6. Define the Tasks in More Detail

Don’t just include a task like “build a website” on your list; make sure you have broken the task into smaller pieces. The smaller the tasks are, the easier it is to accomplish them before the due date.

7. Do Some Prep Work in Advance

Make sure that you prepare for certain tasks in advance.

For instance, I write the outlines for my guest posts on Sundays so that it’s easier (and faster) for me to start writing the actual posts when I wake up. With a little bit of prep work, I speed things up and make sure tasks get done when the right day comes.

8. Automate the Maintenance

Naturally, you could use a pen and paper approach to your personal to-do list, but try to take advantage of technology, too. In fact, try to find a tool that takes care of the maintenance of your task list for you. My preferred tool is Nozbe, but there are other task management apps that you can try, too.

9. Know Your Task Types and Your Schedule

Finally, when you plan your day, ask yourself these questions:

What else do I have on my schedule?

This question refers to your personal schedule. For instance, if you are traveling, make sure that your list reflects this fact. Don’t try to “overstuff” your list with too many tasks, since it’s more likely you’ll get only a fraction of them done.

Is the task a gatekeeper?

This question asks if the task is blocking other tasks that need to be executed.

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Every once in a while, we might have a task that has to be taken care of first. After you have done that, only then can you take care of the following tasks.

When you focus on creating your task list in a focused manner, you’ll be able to spot the gatekeepers easily.

Do I have icebergs on my list?

This question asks if your task is actually much bigger than what it seems. Sometimes when you start working on a task, you’ll soon realize that it’s much bigger than what you initially thought (compare them to icebergs, where only the tip of the iceberg is above the water, but the majority of the ice is below).

Once again, when you focus enough on your task list during the creation phase, it’s easier to spot these “icebergs” and split the tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Is the task distraction-proof?

Not all the tasks are created equal: some tolerate more distraction, while others require your full attention.

For instance, I can check my Twitter stream or do simple blog maintenance even when I’m around my family. These tasks are distraction-proof, and I can take care of them, even if I don’t have my full attention on them.

The Bottom Line

If you still have a hard time achieving your daily tasks on your to-do list, make sure that you analyze the reasons why this happened. If anything, do not beat yourself up for not finishing your task list.

No one is perfect, and we can learn from our mistakes.

It takes a bit of practice to create a great task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better, and you’ll be more productive overall.

More Productivity Tips

Featured photo credit: J. Kelly Brito via unsplash.com

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Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Published on February 25, 2021

How To Get Rid Of Your Social Media Addiction

How To Get Rid Of Your Social Media Addiction

Nowadays, if you’re not on social media, you feel like you’re not truly living in the 21st century. Everything from businesses to personal and professional relationships, social media has a strong presence—and with that, a luring temptation to spend even more time using its features.

While it still provides platforms where we can connect with friends and family, it has exponentially grown to an online version of the Vegas strip: advertisements, videos, and links inviting us to turn our attention to the next latest and greatest trend or product. According to a recent article by Forbes, having a potent social media strategy is critical for businesses and consumers alike.[1] We make a tremendous amount of purchasing decisions based on content provided to us via social media channels.

Likewise, we also tend to “follow the flock” when it comes to new trends, ideas, fashion, and unfortunately, even politics. While the positive side of social media is that we now have more freedom of expression, the shadow side is still just as present: we can easily lose our sense of individuality.[2] It’s a slippery slope—and one that often takes a bit of time and consequence to realize and change. This is why the term “social media addiction” has taken root in the health and wellness industry as one of the causes of mental health issues.[3]

Social Media Addiction and How It Affects Health

How we use social media has drastically changed since the dawn of websites like Facebook. Initially, Facebook’s platform was a simple way of connecting with friends and family and posting cheesy pictures or status updates on Facebook’s “wall.”

Over time, however, with the emergence of a more picture-oriented platform like Instagram, we upped the ante. This is where the slippery slope emerged, and we’re still dealing with it presently.

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Take a look at some of the most popular Instagram profiles today. You’ll likely see a pattern of manicured photos and perfect layouts, followed by millions of users. This has become an “Instagram goal,” and it perpetuates the idea that beautiful pictures equate to a happy user. We know that’s simply not the case, but this mentality and desire to create a perfect life online for all to see is feeding depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Likewise, it’s causing us to lose our sense of authenticity and realness because the “real world” problems don’t make for beautiful social media posts. Instead, we hide behind the beauty that’s only covering up our sadness, grief, or loneliness. Because we’ve carefully created our online world, we’ve stepped out of our real one. Social media addiction is this practice of escapism.[4]

So, how do you take back the reins of your life and curb your time on social media (and stop social media addiction)? Here are some steps to get started.

1. Think About Why You’d Like to Be on Social Media

Everything we do in life is about intention: why do you want to do something? What will it bring you? The same goes for social media use. It may be silly to ask this question when thinking about a Facebook or Instagram account, but if you want to truly control your social media (instead of the other way around), asking this question may truly be eye-opening.

Do you want to just keep in touch with friends, or do you want to promote your business? Getting to the crux of why you’re online will help you clearly mark your time on social media effectively and eliminate everything else.

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2. Be Meticulous About Who You Follow and what you post and share

Attention is your greatest currency. Read that again.

Everything that you click on or “like” becomes a thread in the tapestry of what comes back to you on social media newsfeeds. You want to create the kind of information spread that works for you, your needs, and your time. So, often, we impulsively follow people who may not be serving our best interests.

Give yourself permission to clean those contacts out every once in a while! It’s okay to disagree with someone. Instead of plummeting into a rabbit hole of social media thread arguments, unfollow anyone who you don’t connect with. It’s much better for your mental health and helps you get rid of social media addiction.

Likewise, be meticulous about what you share. Are you posting misinformation yourself? Just like you are planning on cleaning up your contacts list, someone who follows you may be thinking of doing the same. Make it a priority to share and post things that not only have significance to you but also serve others.

3. Curb the Time You Spend Online

If you have a laundry list of things to get done but have spent the last three hours scrolling your newsfeed, it’s time to close the app or the computer. Set a timer on your phone, if that’s what it takes to solve your social media addiction.

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Once you begin the practice of detaching from being online so much, you’ll notice that you get so much time back! This time has always existed, but you were just using it poorly. It’s not that you don’t have enough time—it’s just that you spend too much time scrolling online instead of being productive.

4. Change Your Notification Settings

If your productivity is suffering because you’re constantly distracted by the pings from your notifications, there are ways to turn those notifications off in your settings. Better yet, you can always delete the apps from your phone and devices and resolve to check your social media notifications on your desktop. This way, you can get back to finishing your work without facing the temptation of checking your messages.

5. Not Everything Has to Be Posted and Shared

It often feels like we’re in a perpetual case of “FOMO” when it comes to posting on social media. If the Superbowl came and went and you didn’t post anything at all, will the world continue to spin? Of course.

We don’t have any social obligation to our followers to keep them abreast of every single event that happens in our life. These are choices that we must make consciously and in alignment with our desires.

Think about the last concert (in the pre-COVID world) you went to—did you immediately post bits of the concert to social media or snapped and uploaded a selfie of you and your friends?

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These are habitual things that we don’t even think about, which brings me to the final point…

6. It’s Okay to Put Your Phone Down and Enjoy Life

In fact, this one very simple point could truly help you cut that social media addiction! Precious moments of your life are one in a million—like seeing a shooting star or catching the smile of your favorite person. These moments are so fragile, and they never happen the same way twice in your lifetime.

Don’t run towards your phone to capture that moment. Capture it instead with your eyes and with your heart. Let it become a sweet memory. Enjoy the moment you’re so keen on sharing with others and instead, prioritize sharing it with yourself.

Final Thoughts

Social media addiction, when left unchecked, can lead us to depression and lack of self-worth and authenticity. If we “follow the flock” in search of creating a perfect online life, we’re stepping further away from being ourselves. This brings about a slew of consequences, which can snowball over time and lead to worse obstacles in our lives.

When we finally learn how to use social media, to what extent, and with what intention in mind, we can take control over it before it takes control over us.

More on Social Media Addiction

Featured photo credit: Ryan Plomp via unsplash.com

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