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Last Updated on July 3, 2019

The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done

The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done

One of the most powerful ways to reduce stress and overwhelm when you feel anxious about your work is to sit down with a pen and piece of paper and write out all the things you have to do. What author of Getting Things Done, David Allen calls “a mind sweep”. It relieves your brain of cognitive overload and when you can see listed out all the things you have to do you get a sense of comfort knowing that it is not as bad as your brain was telling you.

However, just getting all those things you have to do out of your head, does not get the work done. It is just the first step.

To really get the benefit of making a to-do list, there are few things you can do that will make your to-do list much more effective.

1. Be Clear About What You Need to Do

I often see to do lists with tasks written like “Talk to Tim” or “Prepare presentation”. The problem with writing tasks like this is they are not clear. There are a number of questions that remain unanswered. Talk to Tim about what? What presentation? What needs preparing?

When you write a task, you will know what you want to do; but after a weekend or a few days, what you want to accomplish has become muddy and unclear. It is far better to write “Talk to Tim about next week’s trip to Berlin” or “prepare an outline for next week’s presentation to the Board of Directors”. Sure, it might take a few seconds more to write the extra words but, you will thank yourself later when you come to do the task.

Writing tasks like this makes it very clear about what you want to do. And when you sit down to begin your work, you will know exactly what is involved in doing those tasks so you can make better decisions about what to work on.

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It also saves a lot of time because the clarity means you will be able to get the right files and get started straight away, instead of having to spend a few minutes trying to remember what you need to do.

2. Don’t Randomly Date Tasks

It is very tempting to add a date to every task you write—you don’t want to forget to do it, do you?—The problem with randomly dating every task you put on your to-do list is you end up with an overwhelming daily list of tasks that do not need doing on the day you have chosen, and either you will reschedule tasks or you will just ignore them.

Instead, get more strategic. Only put a date on a task if you intend to do it on that day. I’ve seen daily to do lists with twenty to thirty tasks when the person has a day of back to back meetings. In these circumstances, there’s no way the tasks are going to get done.

It’s okay to put a reminder task in your daily to-do list—something like REMINDER: Review Project X – Does anything need doing?” Or create a list of calls to make and have one daily task that tells you to review your calls list. Just work on keeping your daily to-do list manageable and realistic.

Spending a little time each week to plan out your week based on what is on your calendar will help you keep your to-do list more effective. You can add dates to your tasks then. When you have a quiet day in the office with no meetings, have a longer list of to-dos. If you are away on a business trip, reduce the number of tasks on your list.

3. Keep Your Daily List to No More Than Ten Tasks

When I suggest this to people, they often laugh at me. They believe they are much busier than that and must have at least twenty tasks on their list.

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The problem here is with all the distractions, emergencies and interruptions you are going to get each day; you are not going to get those twenty tasks done. You will get to the end of the day frustrated because you are rescheduling twenty-five to fifty per cent of the tasks you had on your list.

Instead, at the end of the day, spend around ten to fifteen minutes prioritizing the next day. Pick the ten most important tasks on your list and highlight them in some way. Many to do list managers have a way to flag tasks and so you can add a flag to the 10 tasks you want to get done the next day.

Not only does this keep you focused on what is important, but it also forces you to choose the tasks that will have the biggest positive impact on your day.

When you start to prioritize your to-do list in this way, you will naturally become more focused and will spend more of your valuable time on tasks that move you forward on your projects and your goals.

4. Group Similar Tasks Together

When you look at your to-do list, you will notice many tasks are similar in nature.

Calling your customers, for example. If you have two or three tasks on your daily list that involve calling your customers, group these together and do them at the same time. Schedule thirty minutes or so to do your calls and do them one after the other. Likewise, if you have tasks involving email, group those together too. You will find you get a lot more done and your mind is much more focused on the work you are doing.

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It can become chaotic when you are switching between diverse types of work all day. It’s is far better for your effectiveness and productivity to do similar tasks together. You have the right tools (apps, phone email etc) open and it will save you a lot of time.

5. Make Your To-Do List Motivating

When you write tasks such as “reply to email” or “do customer follow up calls,” there is no real motivation in there. It just feels like you are going through the routine of doing the work. Where possible, write tasks like “get email inbox to zero” and “call my customers to make sure they are happy”. This might seem simplistic, but a lot of the time a to-do list has no emotional value. It is just a list of work to do.

To help make the list more inspiring, write tasks so they evoke an emotional response. Making your customers happy will be more motivating than just calling them, because that’s your job or competing with yourself to get your email inbox to zero each day adds a little more spark to the task.

Another way to make your to-do list more motivating is to keep the daily list short. As I wrote above, when your daily to-do list has no more than ten tasks on it, it will feel achievable. If it has between twenty and thirty tasks on it, it will just feel overwhelming. Far better to take a look at your daily list and feel inspired than to look at your list and feel demotivated.

6. Do a Weekly Review

For anyone who has read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, you will know all about the weekly review. Yet, it surprises me how many people skip doing it. If you want your to-do list to remain effective and up to date, then a weekly review is vital.

Over the week when you are rushing around and doing stuff, you will miss things. We are human beings and we will forget to check off tasks we have done, we will add time-sensitive tasks and not add a date and we will forget to add tasks. The weekly review is where you stop for an hour and take a big picture view of what you have to do.

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Ideally, your weekly review should be done in a distraction-free place so you can just focus on the work you have to do and plan out the following week. Get all your tasks together—you may have written tasks down in a notebook and not added them to your to-do list—and clear out tasks that are either no longer needed or have been done.

Doing a weekly review puts you in complete control. It allows you to stay on top of your work, decide what needs doing next and what can be postponed to a later time. It’s the best way I know of starting the week with a plan and a direction and it is a way to make sure you are doing the right things and not getting caught up in minor tasks that do not move you forward on your projects or your goals.

The Bottom Line

When used properly, a to-do list can be the motivation and driver that propels you to do your best work and achieve amazing things. It keeps you focused on the important things and it stops you missing tasks that otherwise may be lost.

To do lists also help you reduce stress and overwhelm because rather than trying to remember everything in your head, you have externalized all the work you have to do freeing up space in your mind for more creative endeavours.

Let’s recap the key takeaways:

  • Write tasks so it is very clear what you have to do. If you have to call someone, put their telephone number in the task to save time searching for the number.
  • Add dates that are meaningful and not random. When your daily to-do list only has tasks that must be done that day, you will be much more focused on the right work.
  • Only allow a maximum of ten to twelve flagged tasks per day on your to-do list. This does not mean you only do those tasks. If you have time and energy at the end of the day, you can always do more.
  • Group similar tasks together so you can focus in on the type of work you are doing at the same time. This helps to avoid the risks of multi-tasking.
  • Write out your tasks so they are meaningful and motivating. You want to look at your list and be motivated to get stuck in and do the work.
  • Never miss doing a full weekly review. This is the glue that keeps everything together and relevant.

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Featured photo credit: Cathryn Lavery via unsplash.com

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Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

You may think that you don’t have time for office organization, but if you really knew how much time that disorganization cost you, you’d reconsider.

Rearranging and moving piles occasionally doesn’t count. Neither does clearing off your desk, if you swipe the mess into a bin, or a desk drawer.

A relatively neat and orderly office space clears the way for higher productivity and less wasted time.

Organizing your office doesn’t have to take days, it can be done a little at a time. In fact, maintaining an organized office is much more effective if you treat it like an on-going project, instead of a massive assault.

So, if you’re ready to get started, the following organizing tips will help you transform your office into an efficient workspace.

1. Purge Your Office

De-clutter, empty, shred, get rid of everything that you don’t need or want. Look around. What haven’t you used in a while?

Take one area at a time. If it doesn’t work, send it out for repair or toss it. If you haven’t used it in months and can’t think of when you’ll actually need it, out it goes. This goes for furniture, equipment, supplies, etc.

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Don’t forget about knick-knacks, plants (real or artificial), and decorations – if they’re covered with dust and make your office look shabby, they’re fair game.

2. Gather and Redistribute

Gather up every item that isn’t where it belongs and put it where it does.

3. Establish Work “Zones”

Decide what type of activity happens in each area of your office. You’ll probably have a main workspace (most likely your desk,) a reference area (filing cabinet, shelves, binders,) and a supply area (closet, shelves or drawers.)

Place the appropriate equipment and supplies are located in the proper area as much as possible.

4. Close Proximity

Position the equipment and supplies that you use most within reach. Things that you rarely use can be stored or put away.

5. Get a Good Labeler

Choose a label maker that’s simple to use. Take the time to label shelves, bins, baskets drawers. Not only will it remind you where things go, but it will also help others who may have a need to find, use, or put away anything in your workspace.

6. Revise Your Filing System

As we move fully into the digital age, the need to store paper files has decreased.

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What can your store digitally? Are you duplicating files? You may be able to eliminate some of the files and folders you’ve used in the past. If you’re storing files on your computer, make sure you are doing regular back-ups.

Here’re some storage ideas for creating a smooth filing system:

  • Create a meeting folder – Put all “items to be discussed” in there along with items that need to be handed off, reports that need to be given, etc. It’ll help you be prepared for meetings and save you stress in the even that a meeting is moved up.
  • Create a WOR folder – So much of our messy papers are things that are on hold until someone else responds or acts. Corral them in a WOR (Waiting on Response) folder. Check it every few days for outstanding actions you may need to follow-up on.
  • Storage boxes – Use inexpensive storage boxes to keep archived files and get them out of your current file space.
  • Magazine boxes – Use magazine boxes or binders to store magazines and catalogs you really want to store. Please make sure you really need them for reference or research, otherwise recycle them, or give away.
  • Reading folder – Designate a file for print articles and documents you want to read that aren’t urgent.
  • Archive files – When a project is complete, put all of the materials together and file them away. Keep your “working folders” for projects in progress.
  • File weekly – Don’t let your filing pile up. Put your papers in a “To File” folder and file everything once a week.

Learn more tips on organizing your files here: How to Organize Your Files for Better Productivity

7. Clear off Your Desk

Remove everything, clean it thoroughly and put back only those items that are essential for daily use.

If you have difficulty declutter stuff, this Declutter Formula will help you throw away stuff without regretting later.

8. Organize your Desktop

Now that you’ve streamlined your desktop, it’s a good idea to organize it.

Use desktop organizers or containers to organize the items on your desk. Use trays for papers, containers for smaller items.

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Don’t forget your computer desktop! Make sure the files or images are all in organized folders. I’d recommend you clear your computer desktop everyday before you leave work.

9. Organize Your Drawers

Put items used together in the same drawer space, stamps with envelopes, sticky pads with notepads, etc.

Use drawer organizers for little items – paper clips, tacks, etc. Use a separate drawer for personal items.

10. Separate Inboxes

If you work regularly with other people, create a folder, tray, or inbox for each.

11. Clear Your Piles

Hopefully with your new organized office, you won’t create piles of paper anymore, but you still have to sort through the old ones.

Go through the pile (a little at a time if necessary) and put it in the appropriate place or dump it.

12. Sort Mails

Don’t just stick mail in a pile to be sorted or rifle through and take out the pieces you need right now. Sort it as soon as you get it – To act, To read, To file, To delegate or hand off. .

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13. Assign Discard Dates

You don’t need to keep every piece of paper indefinitely. Mark on files or documents when they can be tossed or shredded.

Some legal or financial documents must be kept for specified length of time. Make sure you know what those requirements are.

14. Filter Your Emails

Some emails are important to read, others are just not that important.

When you use the filter system to label different types of emails, you know their priority and which to reply first.

Take a look at these tips to achieve inbox zero: The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

15. Straighten Your Desk

At the end of the day, do a quick straighten, so you have a clean start the next day.

Bottom Line

Use one tip or try them all. The amount of effort you put into creating and maintaining an efficient work area will pay off in a big way.

Instead of spending time looking for things and shuffling piles, you’ll be able to spend your time…well…working and you’ll enjoy being clutter free!

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Featured photo credit: Alesia Kazantceva via unsplash.com

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