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Last Updated on December 9, 2020

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

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

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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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Last Updated on October 20, 2021

How to Deal with Digital Distraction to Improve Your Focus

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How to Deal with Digital Distraction to Improve Your Focus

We live in a time where we have access to nearly anything and everything we could ever ask for. But we need to ask ourselves: Is this a good thing? If you’re planning a honeymoon, looking for ways to build your next business, or searching to improve your physical fitness, having an endless portal of information is worth its weight in gold. But if you’re like most individuals throughout the world, the internet has become a source of ongoing anxiety, stress, and fear-mongering—a digital distraction that can have devastating effects on our mental and emotional well-being.

With social media, we see what people want us to see, not what they truly are at all hours during the day. We see what news outlets want us to see with our newsfeed, especially if it’s skewed to connect with your views through a brilliantly designed algorithm. With our information, we confirm our biases through articles, podcast episodes, and reading forums that perfectly reinforce what we already know. Yet, we have to wonder: is this good for us, for our brains, and our long-term growth?

Even with the recent advancements in technology over the last few decades, our brains haven’t changed much. The latest estimates suggest that our modern-day brains haven’t changed in over 40,000 years, which is a blink of an eye on our trajectory of life on our planet as we know it.[1] As a result of this lack of change, our brains haven’t been able to adapt to digital distractions—this rapidly changing technology and fast-paced lifestyle—which was created to hijack our brain’s neural circuitry by creating continuous stressors that have devastating effects on our overall health.

In his infamous book Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky documents how stress affects both animals and humans, essentially making the analogy that stress isn’t bad in small quantities, but repeated and chronic stressors over days, weeks, months, and even years can have detrimental effects on our health. And these stressors don’t even have to be real!

Perceived stress from anxiety, judgment, fear of missing out, and feelings of being inferior to others based on comparisons and social media profiles can have similar effects on our health because the brain cannot truly tell the difference between a real or perceived threat. Technological advancements rarely come without a hidden cost to the people using them.

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While this talk may all sound grim and pessimistic, it doesn’t have to be. The advent of the internet and social media has allowed individuals to express themselves, find their tribe, and connect with others around the world without having to leave their homes. And companies are being built at the kitchen counter of an apartment because of how impactful the internet has become.

To change our current mental health and addiction trajectory, we must understand how to take back control and use these platforms to our advantage. Here are a few tips on how to deal with digital distractions and improve your focus.

1. Kiss Your Notifications Good-Bye

In his hallmark book, Indistractible, Nir Eyal goes into great detail about how social media companies ingeniously created “alerts” to seduce the mind into spending more time on a platform, thus increasing viewing times, creating greater revenue generation, and creating a dependency on updated information. Much like casinos, these tactics heavily involve similar reward pathways within the brain, causing the user to become a dopamine-addicted fiend by using likes, clicks, and alerts to fuel an archaic positive-feedback system that keeps them coming back for more.[2]

Do you actually need to know when someone liked a friend’s page? In the grand scheme of things, how impactful is it to see that you got 20 likes on your post from yesterday? And is it going to change your career trajectory if your friend posted a cat video on their TikTok page?

Let’s be honest, our lives would be much easier if we weren’t inundated with these quick little digital distractions, which is exactly what they are. They’re designed to keep you as a user, which is why you need to take control of your content and filter your settings for alerts.

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Alerts are nothing more than simple distractions to take you away from the task at hand, so why not just get rid of them? Odds are, you are most likely checking your social media page a few times a day anyway. So since you’re already heading to the page, hold off on the distractions while you get your work done.

And this brings us to our next point.

2. Structure Provides Freedom of Choice

Planning your day can be one of the most efficient uses of your time because it sets up the structure needed to accomplish your tasks. This structure inherently allows you greater freedom of choice down the road, as it will allow you to have more free time after you get your work done and finish up deadlines. It will also reinforce that freedom isn’t the lack of boundaries. It is the foundation to allow you to have greater freedom of choice later.

Saving money may not be the most glorious habit. Still, those small habits of saving can compound into significant personal and financial freedoms later in life, essentially allowing you the freedom to retire from work and still have the financial flexibility to continue on with life.

The same is true with using social media and digital platforms for enjoyment. Planning the times and duration for using these platforms can be one of the most efficient uses of your time because it creates boundaries. Influencers on social media platforms don’t have enough time in the day to be scrolling and creating content, but they make you feel like they do. This principle is also true for you, especially those who use digital platforms to promote your brand, business, or company.

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Use your time wisely because we all have a limited and finite amount of it no matter how wealthy you are.

3. Use Digital Platforms to Grow, Not to Show

Who you choose to follow on social media will dictate how productive you are when you’re not actively scrolling. Why? Because your newsfeed will influence the emotions, feelings, and reactions to drive you closer or further away from achieving your goals.

When digital distractions become rampant, they take you away from the tasks at hand and can cause you to feel guilty because of how they make you feel. Just because you aren’t a 27-year-old YouTube channel sensation doesn’t mean you won’t ever achieve the status of being an influential entrepreneur. You can’t compare your chapter 2 to someone else’s chapter 10.

Your choice in following accounts and individuals who will empower you to overcome stressors, hurdles, and personal life choices could give you enough motivation to push through the struggles and face your greatest fears. And if you haven’t taken the time to clean up who you follow on social media, it’s time to make it happen.

Humans are social animals and can be easily influenced by our surroundings. Case in point: Dr. Stanley Milgram performed multiple studies in the 1960s where participants were asked to induce a graded electric shock to an “unknowingly” willing participant in a separate room. Over time, the participants were asked to turn up the intensity of the shocks, reaching a point of lethal shock intensity. Even at lethal shock levels, the participants kept inducing shocks to the individual in the closed room per suggestions from the accompanying individual in the room guiding them through the exercise. Why? Because when people have authority, we inherently obey their orders to feel connected and socially accepted, even if those orders involve drastic actions and near-fatal outcomes.[3]

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Luckily, there were no individuals harmed during these experiments because the participants in the closed room were actors hired to play the part of being shocked. But the information is enough to show just how impactful outside sources of influence—especially authoritative forces like social media influencers and people with high follower counts—can be on changing our behaviors.

Your time spent online should pick you up and help guide you towards your intended goals, not push you down and make you feel inferior to the rest of the world. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we already had a mental health crisis on our hands.[4] Let’s do what we can to reverse it.

4. When You Choose To Focus, Your Life Will Come Into Focus

If you’ve ever been looking for a new car, you know how impactful intentional focus can be on accomplishing a task. It is at this moment when you realize that every other person on the road is driving the same car that you’ve been looking to buy. How is this possible?

The amount of cars on the road hasn’t changed. Your perceptions have. It’s always been that way, but once your brain starts to focus on a specific detail, you start seeing more of it manifest throughout your environment. This happens regardless of whether or not you’re looking for the good, the bad, or the ugly. What you hope to see is what you will eventually get.

When you focus your time and energy on accomplishing your end task, your brain will find things to reinforce this pattern, thus creating an inevitable positive feedback cycle that will take you and your game to the next level. This concept of “The Law of Attraction” can be dated back centuries to many historical figures throughout the world.[5]

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So, the next time you find yourself fazed by digital distractions and lost in the realms of our current digital age, take some time to sit back, lose yourself in your thoughts, and put your phone away. It’s the only way you will make it out alive.

More Tips on Dealing With Distractions

Featured photo credit: Maxim Ilyahov via unsplash.com

Reference

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