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Last Updated on February 25, 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. You have just woken up and are ready to take a shower. After the showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work.

You are feeling wonderful, relaxed, and happy. You have very high expectations for the day and you want to be as productive 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.

The day which started so fine has turned into a stressful one. You just jump from one task to another – as quickly as possible – without doing anything 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 after each other to your list and finally your task list was many miles long. Your to do list also contained tasks which 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 …

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What People Are Wrong About a To-Do List

Do you really know what you are supposed to do?

How much time did you actually spent 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 do – 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 to your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the task into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This in turn makes you to beat yourself for not completing your task list.

Finally, don’t treat creating a task list just 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 is the list going to be realistic and less stressful for you.

Components of a Good 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.

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Understand that certain tasks are very quick to take care of, so it’s easier to include more 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.

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 the 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 don’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 your home). This way, you can actually think the tasks thorough before you enter them onto your 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 daily 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 to smaller pieces. The smaller the tasks are, the easier it is to take accomplish them.

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 guests post 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 task 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 applications 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 the schedule?

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

Is the task a gatekeeper?

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

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

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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 sea level, but the majority of the ice is below the water).

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, much more manageable chunks.

Is the task distraction-proof?

This final question asks if the task is 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 of achieving your daily tasks, 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 practice to create a “smiling” task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better!

More Productivity Tips

Featured photo credit: Jacqueline Kelly via unsplash.com

More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

Time is a great leveler isn’t it? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Even if you’re self-assured, the day may never feel quite long enough.

Why is it that some people can be so much more productive and achieve so much more in a typical day, while others struggle to achieve anything apart from feeling time crunched and overwhelmed?

Everyone I know and work with wants to make the best use of their time. They want to learn how to be more self-assured, happier, and work less—all while growing in their career.

How effectively we use our time—and how we actually work in our business—can make a huge difference to the amount we accomplish in a day or week. It can also make us more focused and more confident.

Do you want to have more thinking and creative time? Do you want to spend more time working on your business rather than working at or in your business? In this article, we’ll show you how.

Get More Done by Gaining Confidence

What if you had a strategy for making the best use of your time that brings you more joy and allows you to focus on the biggest activities and opportunities in your business? You may find the following outline below to be helpful:

1. Create an Exciting Vision

If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you get there?

You want to be more productive and spend more time getting the right stuff done. Well, you need to create a compelling and exciting vision of your future.

What does this future look like? How will you feel when you get there?

Creating a new vision, especially one that is a lot bigger than where you are right now, has a way of igniting your passion. It may be something that feels hard to achieve, but every step you take towards that bigger vision will certainly build your confidence.

Create a vision board to feel more self-assured.

    Commitment to this vision, and accomplishing continual daily progress depends on your ability to look at any situation you’re faced with or currently in, feel self-assured, and see something bigger ahead.

    Also, when you know where you’re headed, you will instinctively start to see all the new opportunities and connections that will get you there.

    Make a vision map to get you started on the path to better productivity. This doesn’t have to be fully actualized, but you should know at least what direction you are heading.

    2. Build a Strategic Plan

    Once you have your future vision mapped out, the next step is to build a strategic plan to get you there.

    Your future vision may be for 3 years or 5 years, or you may choose a longer time frame. Any timeframe over 3 years may feel like a long way away.

    You may wonder how you are ever going to feel confident and motivated on this bigger future years from now when you feel as though you have so much to accomplish today.

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    The first step is to decide on some specific goals for the next 12 months. Don’t list too many or you may begin to feel overwhelmed.

    The magic number for me and my clients is usually five annual goals.

    These are big goals that will create massive change in your business and life and bridge your current situation to your bigger future; accomplishing these goals one by one will help to increase your confidence on a daily basis.

    3. Get on Goal Planning

    Get yourself a piece of blank paper and a pen and divide the paper into 4 columns: A, B, C, and D.

    Ask yourself the question: What is great in my business and life right now? Write these things down in Column A. This might be a couple of things, five things, ten things, whatever feels right to you.

    Then ask yourself: What things are happening right now that I don’t want in my future? Write these things down in Column B.

    This is your opportunity to take a step back and look at the things that are simply not working. You may list people that are bringing you down or projects that you don’t want to work on any more. Maybe you’ll include a service offering that’s going nowhere. It could be the people you’re working with, or it could be your pricing.

    Now, let’s look at your personal strengths. Write down everything that you’re great at in Column C.

    These could be things that you’re doing right now and having success with. It could also be things you know you’re awesome at but you’re not spending enough time on.

    Column D is for your biggest opportunities. Is there a new service/product you could offer your ideal customers? Is there a new innovation you could bring to market? Just take some time out and really think and list these things in Column D.

    Once you’ve analyzed everything you’ve written down, take some time to really think about what goals you want to set for your business and life in the next 12 months.

    4. Set Outcomes to Build Confidence

    You now have your goals, and you’ll feel self-assured and raring to go. They are written down and you’re committed to achieving them. You feel self-assured and motivated.

    But how do you ensure that you stay on the correct course to achieve these goals?

    Managing and juggling day-to-day projects can get in the way. Dealing with problems can get in the way. Staying on top of orders, managing cash flow, and handling day-to-day stuff can move your ship off course.

    You want to be productive and achieve your goals, but you also need to ensure the day and week runs smoothly.

    One way to ensure this happens is to set 90 Day Outcome Goals; within those Outcome Goals, put some specific process goals that need to be undertaken.

    Let’s say you want to get 10 more speaking jobs in the next 90 days, and you know that you typically convert 50% of opportunities.

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    Therefore, your process goal needs to be to have 20 conversations in the next 90 Days to deliver the 10 new pieces of work. You will then work out who you can have those conversations with.

    It’s smart to overshoot, so you will more easily hit your target. This is a clear plan to work through because with every win, your confidence will grow.

    5. Completely Commit to Your Success

    If you are not truly committed to achieving your goals, then chances are that you won’t reach them.

    Motivation can only take you so far. It is the intentional commitment[1] and emotional investment in your future success that will move you forward.

    Think back to any time that you really committed to achieving something. There must have been a reason you actually achieved what you set out to achieve. What motivated you?

    Were you fully invested? Why did it matter? Did you have to be really courageous to achieve it?

    How did it feel when you achieved it? What difference did it make?

    When have you felt truly self-assured? When you are committed to something, then you are propelled into action. Your mindset is focused, and your body follows; you want to get it done.

    And, when you do get it done, your confidence goes through the roof. You feel a level of certainty in achieving the goal you set out to accomplish.

    6. Focus on Your Strengths

    To feel self-assured and build up the confidence needed to achieve our biggest goals, we need to focus on our strengths.

    What are you best at? What are your unique skills? You want to spend as much time as you can working in the areas that you’re great at.

    Multiply your strengths. These areas are where you add the biggest value. They often bring you the biggest amount of joy, and you feel more and more confident when you are using your unique skills.

    If you think there is a specific capability you need to learn or be better at, spend more focused time in that area.

    Many of us want to do it all. We want to be good at everything. We want to offer a lot of services. But, in reality, there are some very specific things we are great at; nobody is good at everything!

    Spending more time adding value in the areas where you excel can create breakthrough results and boost confidence.

    7. Embrace the Present

    Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the future or worrying about the past that we forget the present moment[2].

    Are you spending most of your day reacting to things, or have you taken the time to think about what your perfect day looks like?

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    We all have the opportunity to create rather than react, to decide what we do with our day. All of our future success can be created in the present moment if we just take a step back and take action.

    Sometimes, doing it now is more important than doing it perfectly. There are hidden opportunities in every moment. We need to make sure we don’t miss them if we want to feel self-assured.

    8. Calm the Whirlwind

    The day-to-day life in business and life can be hard, which leads us to feel less self-assured.

    Your mind may be full to bursting with all of the things you feel you have to do. The phrase “I don’t have time” has almost become an instant reaction by so many people when new opportunities are presented.

    There is a whirlwind happening inside our minds.

    Appointments, notifications, tasks, phone calls, errands, cash flow, staffing issues, networking, marketing all can clutter up our timeline. The sheer volume of things we feel we should do creates procrastination, stopping us from pursuing the projects and people that matter.

    Many of us feel we have to do everything within our business.

    Rather than simplifying things and doing less, we do more. We work longer, which creates a lack of energy and focus. Because of this, we lose clarity on our biggest opportunities. If you feel this way, take some well-deserved time off.

    Look at where you’re spending your time. How much of your time is being spent moving your ideas forward?

    In the next 90 days, if you could delegate or outsource more daily tasks and spend more time focusing on where you add the biggest value, what difference would it make?

    Calm the whirlwind by slowing down and doing less.

    Focus on areas that you add the biggest amount of value. By doing this, your energy levels will increase, your confidence will grow and you will have more success.

    9. Take More Time off

    This may seem counterintuitive, but taking more time off to recharge and refocus can pay huge dividends.

    If you are constantly fighting fires and caught up in the myriad of different activities that you have to do each day, then how can you move your business forward?

    You may be being pulled in difference directions without any focused time on your biggest projects. If that’s the case, then it’s almost impossible to gain any real momentum in moving your business forward and hitting your goals.

    The best way to get off that treadmill is to take more creative time out of the business.

    Could you realistically take one day off per month to work on your business? If you could, what would you do with this time?

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    Just imagine no distractions, only focused time on the strategic development and growth of your business.

    Every day off per month could have a different focus: New product innovation; Thinking about your biggest clients; Improving operations.

    Add to this a quarterly review to check in with your goals progress, and this could have a dramatic effect on where you spend your valuable time.

    10. Celebrate Wins

    Sometimes you just want to get through the day, right?

    You have so much to do. There are so many things on your task list that you just complete what you can and then start another day. But what would happen if, at the end of each day, you took some time out to look at what you’ve accomplished?

    Celebrating success keeps you motivated and helps you become more self-assured. It is not just another day. It’s a day that included things that should be celebrated.

    If you’re struggling to feel motivated, try celebrating a couple of wins each day.

    Celebrating success combined with the gratitude you have for achieving those wins will boost your confidence and inspire you for the next day.

    11. Give Yourself More Space

    When was the last time you gave yourself time to think?

    Within the hustle and bustle, it can be difficult to give yourself a little bit of space and time to just think[3].

    Imagine giving yourself just an hour a day to just let your mind wander or think about a specific thing.

    If you think about it, we can all free up an hour a day for something without really losing any efficiency or really impacting our business.

    In fact, that hour could be transformational for your business and life.

    A new idea for a product could form, or an idea for adding value to your existing clients could materialize. Perhaps you could do a check in to your ideal future and your goals. You could decide that you want to take your business in a new direction.

    Try this: Just sit alone for an hour with a notebook and let it be your creative thinking time. See what happens.

    Final Thoughts

    Ultimately, being self-assured happens when you have a clear direction.

    This, coupled with having clear goals and working in your unique skill-set, gives you the biggest opportunity to be more productive and get more of the right things done.

    The old mantra that “less is more” is right on the money. By giving yourself more time to work on your goals, you will inevitably increase your confidence; at this point, your ideal future can be anything you want it to be.

    More on How to Be Self-Assured

    Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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