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How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List

How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List


    To do lists are vital to ensuring that we have a way to keep tabs on all of the “stuff” we’ve got going on in our lives. One of the problems with to do lists is that we tend to throw a lot on them and have a difficult time breaking it down into manageable and – better still – meaningful chunks. We tend to tackle it in the order it appears or based what we do on the deadlines that have been set for each item. Not everyone is going to be able to easily break the habit of focusing on time over task, but there are methods you can use to better connect with what’s really important to you on your to do list to make sure you’re not just checking off boxes. Instead, you’ll be checking off the right boxes.

    One of the best ways I’ve found to cultivate a better to do list is through the use of more meaningful contexts.

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    What is a Context?

    A context (in the realm of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology) is described as follows:

    “A context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action.” – via Evomend.net


    That essentially means you can attach a context to a task that can be based on where you need to be or what you have available to you at particular moments so that you can work on said task. But tasks like “Reply to email X” and “Go shopping for anniversary gift” somewhat lend themselves to place-based contexts without you really having to think about it.

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    So what I suggest is that you attach deeper meaning to those tasks by connecting those tasks to trait-based or emotion-based contexts.

    For example, “Reply to email X” may be an email you have to send thanking someone for coming through for you on a particular project or endeavor. So rather than tag that task with a context like “Email” or “Computer”, use “Gratitude” instead. Not only does it put you in a better mindset to send that specific email, but it also connects all of the tasks that are based on gratitude together when you search for that context (or “tag”, depending on what task management software you are using).

    Sample Trait-Based and Emotion-Based Contexts

    • Knowledge: When you are doing research for a project or learning about something.
    • Love: When you are doing a task associated with romance or fostering a romantic or family relationship.
    • Passion: When you have a burning passion for the to do list item, then this is a great context to use to stay focused on what it is you are truly passionate about (you can filter the passionate items from the ones that aren’t tagged as such).
    • Practice: When you are working towards getting better at something, using this context can help you track those things – as well as how much time and energy you are spending on them.
    • Willpower: Use this context when you really need to tap into your sense of willpower to power through a task.
    • Kindness: When you are doing something just to be kind, then this context can be very useful.

    There are plenty of other contexts you can use that can help you connect more deeply with what would normally be a list of boxes you need to check off – attaching them to these boxes won’t just give them a deeper meaning…they may actually play a much bigger part in your productivity.

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    By adding a deeper meaning to your tasks, they will become more important. That, in turn, will drive you to get more done. When you remove the known logical contexts from the equation (Home, Work, Computer, Phone) and replace them with something more “holistic” like the examples I mentioned above, there’s less of a coaxing involved to keep you moving forward.

    After all, we all know where we physically need to be to get certain things done. The trick to compelling you to do them involves tapping into the “why” you are doing them – and that’s where emotion-based contexts come into play.

    Give it a try – even with just one context to start. I bet you’ll find that a deeper meaning to your to do list will mean a deeper connection to what really matters to more than just what’s on that to do list. It’ll mean a deeper connection to what really matters to you.

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    Photo: Businessman Holding Plates with Smiles via Shutterstock

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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