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Last Updated on November 23, 2021

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

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

Getting up at 6:00 am in the morning, you get ready to go down your daily routine. After showering, you grab yourself a hearty 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. The work seems a lot more rushed, 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.

What Is a To-Do List?

A to-do list is a list of tasks or items that you have to accomplish during a specific period of time e.g. a day, a week, or even a portion of the day. These lists often have manageable tasks and help people to be productive and avoid procrastination.

Productivity to-do lists often have two formats; you either have important tasks at the top and less important ones at the bottom or you could also design the list with tasks lined up in a way from easily manageable to more demanding. This makes it easier to set reminders and stay organized.

Ideally, the important items on the list should be on the top whereas the lesser important ones can rest at the bottom. Having a to-do list means having all of your important tasks and deadlines in one place so that they are easier to take care of.

Your to-do lists can range from project management to shopping lists and even personal development goals.

The Difference Between A Good To-Do and A Bad To-Do List?

Just having a to-do list is not enough, it needs to be an effective one that helps you stay organized. This is where the difference between good to-do lists and bad to-do lists comes into play.

Good To-Do List

A good to-do list has the following elements:

  • Easily achievable tasks
  • Detailed task descriptions
  • Proper planning
  • Flexibility for any delays
  • Having a distinction between objectives and goals

This makes it easy to get tasks done without being overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed can cause you to procrastinate and the whole idea of a to-do list is to make tasks look achievable, not overwhelming.

Bad To-Do List

On the contrary, a bad to-do list has ambiguous tasks with no proper details or deadlines, burdensome wording, and no proper distinction between goals and objectives.

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For example, a bad to-do list would have tasks like ‘get your life together’, ‘stop sleeping in’, and ‘come up with three project ideas ASAP’. These titles do not induce hope or will to complete the task. Instead, use titles like ‘make your bed to improve discipline’, ‘try sleeping an hour early tonight’ or ‘write down your thoughts on how you can attempt the project’.

What Is Usually on a To-Do List?

There are many things that can be incorporated into a to-do list. The first thing you need to do is ascertain what your list aims to do. Some to-do lists can be shopping lists, others can be deadlines, etc. You can even store them in different formats, from Google Calendar reminders to spreadsheets and Google Tasks. Sometimes it can even be as simple as a random piece of paper you scribbled on. There are also programs available on the internet that help you design such lists such as the Microsoft To-Do List program.

Most of the time, to-do lists have the following elements:

  • Important tasks that need to be done
  • Purchases that need to be made
  • Various goals for self-improvement purposes etc.
  • Timed tasks with deadlines, so you don’t lose track of things
  • Keeping track of progress

Hence if you’re looking to make a to-do list, here are some things that might be included in specific types of lists:

Shopping Lists

Shopping lists often include items that need to be bought, be it groceries, clothes, or any other items of personal or office use. The best way to itemize it is from important to less important things required. You may further segregate the list as per the stores in which the listed items will be available. It is also suggested that budgeting this list helps you manage your money.

Project Lists

Project lists are for project management and keeping deadlines in check. These lists are best made with calendars or deadline markers. You can also compartmentalize the items on the list to make the tasks easier to achieve.

Personal Goal List

This type of list is best created with vague deadlines and focuses on making little improvements if any. Start off with achievable goals that slowly build up as you work your way through the lists.

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.

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.

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13 Steps 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. 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.

2. Prioritize Your Tasks

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

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.

11. Include 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.

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12. 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.

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.

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.

13. Count on 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.

Best To-Do List Apps To Improve Your Productivity

Making to-do lists has become even easier since there are so many apps that promote productivity and list-making. Not only do these apps make your list portable and on-hand at all times, but they’ve incorporated different reward mechanisms to make you feel better about completing your tasks. Here are three of the best to-do list apps to use:

Remember The Milk

Remember the Milk

is a to-do list app that may seem like it’s only for groceries, but it is one of the most popular listing apps available. It helps you make various lists with different sorts of features and it is accessible on laptops, phones, and other devices.

Asana

The Asana app makes working easier as it manages projects, tasks, and deadlines with its productivity features. It also gives you the option to make lists with deadlines and keep track of all your work.

Forest

Forest

is a productivity and focus app that helps you make lists or goals of things you need to get done and helps put timers on the task as well. It rewards you by planting a tree in your virtual garden for each complete task. This makes you feel good about yourself and your progress.

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.

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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

More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on November 29, 2021

How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

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How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

From modern technology to interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, distractions are practically unavoidable. This makes it very hard to focus, especially for a sustained period of time on a specific task. Becoming indistractable, then, is an important skill to learn if we want to be truly productive.

Distractions aren’t going to decrease any time soon with advances in technology. Therefore, there is no better time than now to learn the best strategies to help you defeat distractions head on. Remember, many distractions may be out of your control, but you can learn to take charge of whether or not they take control of you.

In this article, you’ll learn not only why distractions are so destructive, but also why they exist in the first place, and a powerful technique that can help you get rid of them for good.

What Is a Distraction?

A distraction is anything that draws attention away from what you’re doing at a given moment. Examples include looking at your phone each time a notification pops up, chatting with people who stop by your office space while you’re working, or checking social media or emails while trying to finish a big project.

Distractions can cause problems for more than just a few seconds. When you switch your attention, you create attention residue, which can linger for an extended amount of time, getting in the way of your focus.

If you really want to become indistractable, you’ll need to overcome each distraction that steps in your path.

Traction: The Opposite of Distraction

We’ve come to the conclusion that distractions are bad, and we don’t want them interfering with what we need to get done. What we want to achieve is the opposite: traction. Now, there aren’t any official antonym for distraction. However, I propose it so as by definition traction is any action that moves us towards what we really want.

Traction is an action that you fully engage in with intent—following through with what you say you will do.

    How To Tell If You’re Distracted

    Most people find it quite common to be distracted. The bustle of everyday life, heightened by social media and other means of escapism into a reality that’s not ours, has offered everyone things to pass their time with.

    Today, being distracted leads to wasting a significant amount of time during the day. Yet, it is not addressed as seriously as it should be. If you can spot the signs of distraction, then you can tackle the issue in time and live the life you want to.

    “Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.”
    [1]

    We have become so used to being distracted that we hardly see it as a bad thing anymore. Distraction can look different in various kinds of people. However, if you’re looking to become indistractable then here are signs to look out for to check if you’re becoming distracted so you can address the issue in time.

    • You find yourself wanting to check your phone frequently: Checking your phone often or feeling the need to constantly be active on social media during work hours or when you’re doing a task is one of the biggest signs of distraction.
    • You look at an object for a long time unable to figure out what to do with it: Although you have something to do, and the materials to do it with, you find it hard to figure out how to go about the task
    • The thing you’re working on feels so boring you want to do something fun: This stems from dissatisfaction with the work you’re doing. This dissatisfaction leads to you feeling bored with your task and seeking external comfort in something ‘fun’.
    • When you’re doing something mundane, you’re thinking about doing the things you like: Constantly thinking about things you like is what most people do when they cannot keep traction with the work in front of them. This usually happens when they are thinking about activities they look forward to once the task is over.
    • Audio-visual stimuli around you make it hard to focus on the task at hand: Although you’re working on the task, every voice or passing visual catches your attention. This may cause you to forget about work and listen in on a nearby conversation instead.

    The Reasons for Distraction

    When we talk about distractions, we’re talking about human behavior and reactions to the distractions themselves. And, all human behavior is marked by external or internal triggers.

    External Triggers

    External triggers

    are cues that we take from our environment that tell us what to do, such as pings from our phone or computer that prompt us to look at whatever the alert is announcing: an Instagram update, an email, a text from an old friend. These external triggers compete for our attention with whatever task we’re ultimately trying to focus on. Sometimes, the mere presence of an object itself, such as having your phone nearby, can prompt you to give it attention.

    Internal Triggers

    There are also internal triggers, which are simply cues that come from within, such as hunger, anxiety about an upcoming event, or feeling cold.

    All human behavior is prompted by external or internal triggers; therefore, traction and distraction both originate from the same source.

    How to Overcome Distraction and Become Indistractable

    Distractions can easily take over your life, but below I outline 4 simple tactics to take back your control and become indistractable. This concept I am sharing with you now draws from my book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

    1. Master Internal Triggers

    To overcome distractions and slip into deep work, you first need to understand your root cause of distraction. Humans have a natural tendency to want to escape discomfort. Even at times where we are going after pleasure and positive events, our drive often revolves around freeing ourselves from the discomfort of wanting.

    In truth, we will turn to social media, emails, video games, and Netflix not necessarily for the pleasure that they provide, but because of how they free us from psychological discomfort within. While it provides temporary relief, it is an unhealthy way to deal with your life. Even though you can’t control all outside situations and occurrences, you can control how you react to those circumstances.

    Various studies show that when humans don’t give into an urge, craving or impulse, it can trigger rumination and make the desire grow even stronger. So, when you eventually give in, your reward is increased, which can turn quickly into an undesired habit.

    Identify the Feeling or Thought Behind Your Urge

    When you find yourself wanting to give into your distraction, stop and become familiar with the internal trigger. Are you feeling anxious, overtired, or maybe you’re underprepared for the task at hand?

    Write Your Feelings Down

    Using a log and writing down the time of day and what you were doing, along with the feeling that accompanies it. Doing so will help you link your own behaviors with your internal triggers, which will help you better notice the thoughts and feelings that precede certain behaviors and better manage them.

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    Get Curious and Explore Your Feelings and Sensations

    Have a sense of curiosity towards your feelings. Notice if you have butterflies in your stomach, or a tightening in your muscles.

    2. Make Time for Traction

    Planning is critical to beating distractions, because if you don’t plan your day, surely someone else will! When you’re not clear on how you want to deal with your time and attention, anything and everything becomes a potential distraction.

    First, you need to turn your values into time. Of course, many of us want to spend more time with things that matter most to us: our family, friends and hobbies. But, we often fail to do so because we don’t make time for them in our day.

    So, you must acquire the attributes and values of the person you want to become.

    Examples might include becoming a contributing member of a team, spending quality time with your children, jumping into continuing education, becoming physically fit, or giving back to your community. Many of us wish to subscribe to these values, but without making the time to take actions to live them out, they’re simply empty aspirations.

    Timebox Your Schedule

    Timeboxing is, in my opinion, the most effective way to ensure time for your values. Timeboxing is the process of deciding what you’re going to do and exactly when you’re going to do it, helping you become indistractable.

    You simply create a daily calendar template for how to spend your time, so that you have no white space in your day. It isn’t important what you have planned to do, as long as you stick to it. If you feel a need to scroll through social media, just make sure you have planned appropriately for it.

    Be sure to include 15 minutes per week to reflect and refine your calendar, improving it week by week. You can ask yourself: When did I do what I said I would do, and when did I get distracted?

    At times where you became distracted, note what triggered it and come up with a strategy to use the next time the distraction or urge arises. Also ask: Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better express my values?

    Synch Your Schedule With Others

    Once your ideal week has been planned, be sure to notify others of importance in your life. Make a clear intention to stick with your plans and involve those who matter most. This could be related to sharing household responsibilities, alerting your boss to your timeline intentions at work, or even scheduling a date with your partner.

    3. Combat External Technical Triggers

    Tech companies are adept at using external triggers to hack into our attention. There are countless ways they do so, but our smartphone use is fueled by many of these triggers.

    Research shows that ignoring a call or message can be just as distracting as responding to one! If used properly, though, you can take control and rely on these external triggers to remind you to follow through with what you planned.

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    To do so, simply ask whether the external trigger is serving you, or if you are serving it. If the trigger leads you to traction, keep it; if it leads you to distraction, get rid of it. A few things to consider:

    1. Remove any and all apps you no longer need.
    2. Remove any apps that you enjoy, but you can use on your computer instead.
    3. Reduce the clutter on your home screen by rearranging the apps on your phone.
    4. Remove notification settings for each app that you don’t need updates on (social media, etc.).

    4. Make a Pact to Prevent Distractions

    Forethought is the antidote to impulsivity and key to becoming indistractable. Therefore, it’s useful to pre-commit to something in order to overcome distraction.

    We cement these decisions far in advance of any temptations and distractions that may come our way. This should only be undertaken after you have followed the other three steps and learned to manage internal triggers, make time for traction, and reduce external triggers.

    Here are the three types of pacts:

    Effort Pact

    This is a kind of pre-commitment that requires you to increase the amount of effort towards something you would rather not do. Increasing your effort forces you make the decision as to whether the distraction is really worth it or not. Some great apps that can help you with this include SelfControl, Forest, and Freedom.

    Price Pact

    This pact puts money on the line, where you get to keep your money if you follow through with your intended behavior, and if you get distracted, you lose your funds.

    I committed to a price pact when finishing the first draft of my book, promising an accountability partner $10,000 if I failed to finish my draft by the set deadline. This was an incentive for me to finish writing my book and keep my money.

    Identity Pact

    This is the method of using your self-image to impact your behavior and become indistractable. By deciding on and undertaking a new identity, you will empower yourself to make decisions based on who you believe you are. Think about vegetarians—they do not have to expend much willpower to avoid eating meat because they have committed to that as part of their identity.

    To become a person who is indistractable, stop telling yourself you are a person with a “short attention span” or an “addictive personality.” Rather, tell yourself, “I am indistractable.” If you say to yourself that you are easily distracted, it instantly becomes a truth. Yet, if you commit to believing that you are indistractable, you will immediately begin to implement these strategies, which will empower you to conquer any distraction that comes your way.

    Easy to Use Tools That Help You Stay Focused

    Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy if you’re looking to become more focused and avoid distractions. Some anti-distraction tools and apps help keep you focused by blocking out possible causes for distraction.

    You might be the sort of person who faces distraction at work, or you just can’t make yourself sit down at your desk and get to work, but there’s always hope. Here are some of the best tools that remove distractions and bring out your best potential.

    1. Dewo

    This apps blocks all distracting social media apps automatically, keeping you free from notifications and the constant light-up of your screen. The best part of Dewo is that it gets accustomed to your focus patterns and can even go on ‘automatic’ mode for you.

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    You can ask the app to schedule meetings and appointments for people in your contacts, and it simply picks the most convenient time for you that won’t interfere with your focus schedule.

    2. Freedom

    The Freedom app, much contrary to its name, restricts websites and locks up the internet during focus hours. Once you’ve made up your mind to lock up apps then it won’t let you access them regardless of how you feel later.

    For those who find themselves distracted even on their laptop, this app will work on the computer as well. Most people may consider these methods ruthless, but they are incredibly effective.

    3. Focusme

    Readers who are looking for an app that helps them create healthy work patterns, minimize distraction, block attractive sites, and much more – FocusMe is the perfect app for you. This app helps block out certain apps and sites for selected periods.

    It also gets used to the owner’s work ethic and gives helpful tips and suggestions on what apps to block and when to take breaks. This increases productivity and reduces the chances of dissatisfaction and boredom.

    The Bottom Line

    To become indistractable, you don’t need to have superpowers. It’s truly as easy as following the few steps mentioned above. When you master internal triggers, make time for traction, dissolve any extraneous external triggers, and prevent distractions by creating pacts, you will reshape your entire life.

    However, the important part is to understand that to make a difference, you need to act now. There is no better time to regain control over your life than the present. Taking things step-by-step helps you sustainably achieve your goals. You want to be indistractable for the rest of your life, not just for the week.

    Once you have the ability to see tasks to the end after having committed to them, nothing in life can derail you from your path. This is why indistractability is important, it disciplines you to deal with the harsh realities of life.

    Here are some tips on how to work on your traction just as you finish reading this article.

    • Go through your apps and remove ones that are absolutely unnecessary to your life and goal. You may keep only two that you use for games or recreation.
    • Practice mindfulness through keeping a diary, making observations about your day, having a to-do list, and much more.
    • Whenever you find yourself distracted, re-evaluate the place of that distraction in your life and how it implicates your life’s goals.

    More to Help You Stay Focused

    Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Nir Eyal, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

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