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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

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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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Published on July 12, 2021

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Conventional wisdom centers around giving more of yourself to others in your life than you would to what you want to accomplish. You’re taught to make sacrifices and put your needs secondary because that’s how you’ll become a better person. However, not making yourself a priority is keeping you from accomplishing your goals and getting more done.

Let me know if this sounds familiar. You work hard all day to accomplish your goals. During your moments of focus, there are requests from others and demands from outside distractions on your time. You start each day with a to-do list of items that you want to accomplish. By the time you come to the end of your day, you haven’t completed what you wanted. If you were to analyze your time, you would see that the reason is you’re constantly being distracted.

There’s a significant difference between being selfish and being self-centered. I won’t give you the analogy that you hear every time you get on an airplane, but if you’re going to accomplish your goals, you have to stop drowning—in a figurative sense.

The reality is that you’re giving more of yourself to others than you are giving to your goals and vision of the future. By not making yourself a priority, your goals have become secondary.

Here are six important reasons why everyone should understand the importance of self-prioritization. The key to getting more done starts with taking care of yourself first and foremost.

1. You Create the Bandwidth You’ll Need to Focus on Your Goals When You Make Yourself a Priority

It takes a lot of yourself to consistently put in the work that helps you get more done and accomplish your goals. You need energy, bandwidth, and mental clarity to wake up every day and work hard.

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By making yourself a priority, it allows you to see the path to accomplishment. Too many people aren’t accomplishing their goals because their goals get lost in the busyness of taking care of others. It becomes a negative habit and a complacent way to live life.

Life rarely works out as expected, and as you’re working on your goals, you’re going to experience unexpected setbacks. You need bandwidth and mental strength to withstand those frustrating moments and still maintain the motivation to accomplish your goals.

The vital part of accomplishment is that you are working on your goals.

When you are working on what you want to accomplish to make yourself better, you can stay focused on what it will take to get there. You learn to say no to anything that will derail your path, and this creates more space and time to work on what you need to. Create the proper bandwidth through self-prioritizing.

2. Focused Energy Leads to More Production

Disorganization affects productivity. When it feels like you’re being pulled in many different directions, you can’t focus and create the energy needed for consistent production. A scattered mind leads to half-accomplished goals.

We know that in goal-setting, we need a plan. This plan has to be centered around what you want to accomplish. Self-prioritization allows you to create a plan that’s focused on the specific actions and steps it will take to achieve your goals.

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As you take action in an organized way, this leads to more production because your focus and energy are around the goals you know will help you be better and accomplish more. You simply get more done when you have the energy to do so.

3. Prioritizing Yourself Builds Clarity on What Boundaries You Should Set and Keep

Deep inside, you know when you should be saying no instead of saying yes. When you agree to anything that could derail your focus, it eats away at you inside. Prioritizing yourself and your goals helps you set boundaries and keep them because of the intense focus.

There will always be attempts and requests for your time and attention. As you start to build up yourself and accomplish more, others will notice. This will bring demand for your energy and your focus. If you give in to these requests, you won’t have the necessary bandwidth needed to work on your goals consistently.

Setting boundaries is an integral part of goal setting and living a healthy life. You have to be firm about what you allow and what you will not tolerate in your life. Human nature tends to lean towards people-pleasing—when you focus on pleasing others, you don’t please yourself.

Prioritize your goals and the things that you want to accomplish in your life. That’s the operative thing to understand—this is your life, and the focus has to be on what you want to achieve in that life. Use self-prioritization to clarify what boundaries need to be set and make sure you hold these boundaries firmly.

4. Sustainable Productivity happens With excitement for What You’re Working On

There are many reasons why people don’t accomplish their goals, but one that is not often thought about is a lack of excitement. When you spend the whole time working on things that drain you, your productivity diminishes with every second.

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Letting outside circumstances dictate your goals leads to a lack of excitement. By not focusing on making yourself a priority, you’re not creating an environment in which you are thrilled to be working on your goals. It will take a lot of hard work over a sustained period of time to accomplish your significant goals and be productive. It’s going to require energy and bandwidth to overcome the setbacks and stay focused.

Prioritizing yourself allows you to set challenging goals, but the outcome is exciting. If you look at what you’re working on and it’s not exciting, you won’t have sustainability. A lack of motivation will drain your productivity.

You’re a human being, not a machine. There will be things in your life that are not an exciting part of this process, but there has to be a balance between work and play. Work-life balance happens when the life part has an equal priority. Prioritizing what you want creates that balance and amplifies productivity.

5. It’s Mentally and Emotionally Freeing to Let Go of Outside Expectations

We are programmed to take on the baggage of outside circumstances. We’re taught that to be a good human being, we should take on what others are going through. By prioritizing yourself, you’ll come to understand that you are responsible for your life, and that involves your mental well-being.

Prioritizing yourself helps you see that you have to let go of the expectations of others. This is your life, and you have to live in the best way that you see fit. It’s important for you to spend the precious moments you have on this earth working on your goals and the things that help you live a better life.

When you let go of outside expectations of what you should be doing and how you should be doing it, it frees up bandwidth and creates mental clarity to be productive. No longer are you walking around with the burden of what others expect from you, it’s time to spend your time the way you’d like to.

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Other people’s expectations of your life don’t have to be part of your plan. It’s your responsibility to set the goals that help you live a free life and spend your time exactly how you’d like to spend it. Make yourself a priority by letting go and focusing on yourself first and foremost.

6. Optimizing Yourself Builds Every Area of Your Life

You’re probably working on your goals because you want to become the best version of yourself and create a life that brings more time freedom. The path to higher income, better relationships, more travel, and all the other things you want to accomplish happen through self-optimization and productive life.

When you can optimize yourself, it helps you be better in every other area of your life. The key to optimizing yourself starts by prioritizing yourself in more than just words. When you take action from a place of “you-first,” you’ll have the energy and capacity needed to push harder for longer.

Make yourself a priority by focusing on optimizing yourself and all the things you want to accomplish. Everything inside you might be screaming to help others first, but you can’t give what you don’t have. The best place to share is from a place of abundance, and that comes from optimizing yourself.

Final Thoughts

It’s time to take better care of yourself. It’s time to treat yourself as the most significant goal because that should always be the case. What you’d like to accomplish and your path to get there have to be a priority before you think about others.

The demands and energy of others can derail you if you let it. Self-prioritization means that you decide where your boundaries will be set and not allow others to violate them. You’ve probably spent a lot of your time up to this point focused on other people and outside circumstances. It’s time to take a dedicated period of time to put yourself first. You deserve a productive life.

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Debunk the programming that there’s something wrong with putting yourself first and making your goals the primary priority. You can always help others and be there for those who need you while making yourself a priority. It’s not an either-or situation—it’s a situation in which you can help strategically.

More Tips on How to Make Yourself a Priority

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

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