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How to Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever

How to Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever
Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever

    Ah, the humble todo list. With all the high-tech, whiz-bang productivity applications, mobile gadgets, office tools, and genuine Corinthian leather dayplanners out there to spend our money and attention on, in the end the single most productive tool we can use boils down to a list of crap we need to do. Look under the hood of any GTD app or productivity system, and the engine that drives them all is the todo list — whether organized by date, priority, project, or just according to whenever you thought of doing it.

    As virtually every productivity guru says, somewhere near the front of every one of their books, the main reason most people fail, get overwhelmed, or drive themselves to the cardiologist with worry and stress is that they don’t have a good grip on what they need to be doing. So they wake up in the middle of the night (if they can sleep at all) in a panic over whether they did everything the needed to do that day, or they look over the piles of clutter around them and wonder how they’ll ever reach the bottom.

    When they are just about to their breaking point, they reach for a pad and pen and start writing up a todo list. They write down everything they can think of, stick it up next to their PC or shove it in their pocket, work through their list, feel a momentary sense of relief, and return to their regular state of being overwhelmed until the next time they reach their breaking point.

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    This cycle of inefficiency and ineffectiveness is crazy and stupid — and it’s most people’s lives. Which is why breaking that cycle is the first order of business in almost every system aimed at helping people become more productive, whether in their work, their creative life, their family life, or just in general.

    The key to an effective todo list is not the list itself, how it’s organized and managed, but the habit of using, adding to, and reviewing the list. People who make sporadic lists only when they’re almost completely overwhelmed tend to do a good job of writing up their lists and working through them — and they’re typically very productive during the time they’re working through their list. In other words, they know the value of todo lists, and even more or less how to create them, but not how to spread that value throughout their daily lives.

    Like any habit, using a todo list on a daily basis takes some time to establish to the point where it’s automatic. So the first order of business is to put your todo list somewhere intrusive. Don’t count on willpower, logic, pride, or luck to help you keep on track. Put your list in your face, every moment of every day, so that you have to deal with it somehow. For example:

    • Keep a notebook in your back pocket, where you’ll feel it every time you sit down.
    • Rubber-band a notebook or stack of index cards to your wallet or pocketbook, so you’ll have to remove it every time you reach for money, a credit card, your ID, a business card, or whatever else you keep in your wallet.
    • Use an online todo list like Remember the Milk, Tada, Toodledo, or Todoist and set it as your homepage.
    • Embed your online todo list in your desktop (see instructions for XP here [flash video]; you can’t do this in Vista)
    • Install a separate browser with your todo list as it’s homepage, and set it to open automatically when you start your computer. Never close it, and never use it for anything else. So if you regularly use Firefox, use IE or Opera or Safari for your todo list and keep it running whenever you’re at your computer.
    • Use a reminder system (whether built into your online todo list service, or using a service like Sandy, or using a desktop timer, or setting an alarm on your smartphone) to give you hourly reminders to check your list.
    • Place your paper list on your desk in front of you with a pen or pencil while you work.
    • Use a sidebar gadget or widget in Windows Vista, Google Desktop, or other desktop widget software. Set it to always be on top.

    You won’t always need to be reminded to use your list; eventually, it will become a habitual part of your daily routine. But for the first month or so, set your too list up in a way that it actually disrupts your work, forcing you to pay attention to it. You might lose a small amount of time, but the overall productivity gain will more than make up for it.

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    So, now that your todo list has your attention, what should you do with it?

    Short answer: write down everything you need to do. Repeat. For the rest of your life.

    Slightly longer answer: add every task, no matter how small, to your list, at the moment you think of it. Break large tasks into discrete, doable chunks — that is, don’t add “Rule the world” to your todo list, add “Call Bob to discuss 3rd quarter tax estimates.” If you’ll need to get Bob’s phone number before you can do that, write “Look up Bob’s phone number” and write it down next to “Call Bob…”. As you finish tasks, cross them off your list; as you think of new ones, add them. Keep doing that.

    Full answer: use your list as a central repository for all the tasks, thoughts, and plans you need to accomplish in life. Use categories to organize your list and keep you on target. Break complex tasks into small, realistic steps, and use your lists to plan out the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Review your list for a few minutes each day, adding new tasks and removing old ones, and highlighting the 3 or 4 most important tasks you need to finish to consider your day well-spent. Every week or so, do a more in-depth review, planning out new projects, considering every aspect of your life and what you need to do in each to make your life fuller, richer, and more successful.

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    • Use your list as a central repository: Use your list not only for the tasks you have to work on immediately, but for planning, recording random thoughts for later consideration, and recording your goals. I’ve divided my Moleskine using Post-It tab dividers into four sections: the front is for immediate tasks, a middle section of a few pages is for books and music I’ve heard about and want to look into, a longer middle section is for listing out all the projects I’m working on and fleshing them out, and the last is for notes and thoughts. But I find myself using the last section less and less often — instead, I’ve started putting notes directly into my todo list with the preface “T/A” (“think about”). I also use my list to record things I’m waiting for, whether that’s a package I’ve ordered, a piece of information I’ve requested from someone, a bank deposit, or whatever; I use the preface “W/F” (“waiting for”) and put the date I added it in parentheses at the end, like this:

      [ ] W/F: Response from Barbara about new health insurance deductible (12/17)

      When I review my list, I know how long I’ve been waiting — if I feel it’s been too long, I add a follow-up to my todo list, like this:

      [ ] Call Barbara about requested information on new health insurance deductible

      Finally, if a task is related to a specific project, like an article I’m working on, I add “for [project]” to the end of the task, like this:

      [ ] Look up book by Ruth Behar for Sex and Gender article

    • Use categories: I found using categories in a paper list to be a waste of effort (although the tags I used above are a kind of categorizing, I suppose). However, I’ve recently begun using an online todo list manager and the good ones make categorizing much more seamless. People who follow David Allen’s GTD system use contexts for their lists, categorizing tasks by the location or occasion in which they can be done. So for instance, they might have an “@phone” category, listing everything they can do on the phone, so when they have a quiet moment when they can use the phone, they can focus on working though all their calls at once.Contexts don’t really work for me; instead, my lists are categorized by project, and I block out time in my schedule for each project and work through the list for each. I find that the mindset I get into when working on a task from a particular project helps me build up momentum to work through other, related tasks even if they’re different in nature — that is, I’d rather make a phone call about some project and then write up a report for the smae project than make a phone call about one project and then make another about a different project.
    • Break projects into small, discrete tasks: When we look at our todo list, we need to see clear instructions about what to do next. If you have to ask “how do I do that” about a task, you haven’t broken it down enough. As a general rule, you want to reduce everything to the level of activity just above the instinctive — that is, if you need to write something, you’ll more or less instinctively reach for a pen and paper, sit down, take off the pen’s cap, and assume a writing grasp; everything beyond that should be a separate task.
    • Most Important Tasks (MITs): Review your list first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, and highlight a few things you absolutely have to get done, or that will most advance an important project, in the coming day. You can use a highlighter, move them to the top of your list, mark them “high priority” in your task management software, it doesn’t matter as long as you know those are your MITs. Do these things first. If you do nothing else in the day, you’ll still end the day having accomplished something important.
    • Weekly review: My reviews aren’t exactly weekly; instead, I tend to do one about every 4 or 5 days, but whatever frequency you choose, take some uninterrupted time on a more or less regular schedule to look over your lists and think about the “bigger picture”. Think about what you want to accomplish in the next week, consider your overarching goals in life and whether there’s anything new you could be doing to move towards those goals, write up detailed plans for each of your projects, make sure your “waiting for” items are all closed, actually think about all your “think about” items, and so on.

    It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to keep a good todo list. What it does take is a little bit of thought, so that when you come back to your list, it’s clear what you need to be doing and how it fits into your overall life. Once you’ve developed the habit of using a todo list, though, it becomes almost effortless, like walking or talking — something you just do.

    Take some time this year to get into that habit, and start using your time and energy to move towards your goals instead of burning it up trying desperately just to stay where you are. Get started now and make 2008 your best year ever — until 2009!

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    Last Updated on November 12, 2020

    What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

    What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

    You have so many books waiting for your attention, but you just don’t have enough time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

    Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

    What Is Speed Reading?

    On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading skills, you can read much fasteraround 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it’s true.

    In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

    The Reading Process

    The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

    Next, you start moving your eyes to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

    Usually, you take in 4-5 words in your head, or a sentence, at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

    All in all, this means average people read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

    Speeding up the Process

    The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process by at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

    To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the sub-vocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

    Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

    Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary. You may skip important information in this process, and skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

    Why Speed Read?

    Speed reading is not just quick, but it’s also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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    Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before[2].

    Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

    Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

    Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

    A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster. As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

    Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

    Greater Benefits

    With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

    As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

    With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow.

    Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

    How to Learn to Speed Read

    Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

    There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

    1. The Pointer Method

    The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

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    As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

    Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

    2. The Scanning Method

    In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

    Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

    This method involves fixation on keywords, such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

    3. Perceptual Expansion

    Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

    Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

    Basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

    This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

    However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

    The Best Speed Reading Apps

    The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

    You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill.[3]

    Here are a few great options to look into:

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    1. Reedy

    If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the Chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

    This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

    Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

    2. ReadMe!

    Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

    Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

     

    If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

    The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

    Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

    3. Spreeder

    Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

    Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

    Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

    This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

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    The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

    Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace without compromising the quality of information you receive.

    Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, speed readers cannot develop good comprehension.

    It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

    Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

    However, there are a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

    Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

    If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this video to learn about reading faster:

    Conclusion

    Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability and reading comprehension, even when reading for pleasure.

    At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

    However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

    We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

    More on How to Read Faster

    Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

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