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Is Your To-Do List a Mess? Try These 6 Steps To Make It Useful Again

Is Your To-Do List a Mess? Try These 6 Steps To Make It Useful Again

Has your to-do list lost its oomph? Is it more overwhelming than effective?

Have no fear!

This article is going to help you make the most of your to-do list so you can make the most of what you want to achieve.

Pick the Right Medium

Whether you use sticky notes or a fancy app on your smart phone, there’s no wrong medium. It is important, however, that you pick the medium that’s right for you. Lacey M. of Falmouth, MA is a veteran Post-It Note list maker but when she’s on the go, she uses ColorNote, an iPhone app.

Begin With the End in Mind

What’s your desired end state? Is there something you want to achieve or accomplish? If you have no end result in mind your to-do list may look more like a wish list. Think about your desired state for a few minutes. Perhaps you want to write a book or double your income or generate more sales revenue or find five new clients.

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Break it Down

With your end result clearly stated, what tasks or steps are necessary to help you move forward? Write them down in order of priority. For example, if your end result is to write a book, your high level to-do list may look something like this:

  1. Create a chapter outline
  2. Create 3-5 points to cover for each chapter
  3. Create a time plan
  4. Find an accountability partner
  5. Complete first draft
  6. Edit book
  7. Revise book
  8. Decide how to publish book
  9. Traditional publishing – create and send out query letters
  10. Self publishing – determine publishing platform
  11. Publish book
  12. Celebrate

Find a To-Do List System

You may have multiple to-do lists. That’s okay. Most of us do. Finding a to-do list system that works for you is a key ingredient that helps you manage your to-do’s rather than having your to-do’s manage you.

Timothy Barchard, 7th degree black belt and owner of a Professional Martial Arts Academy, uses the PAR3 system and on a daily basis writes down:

  • 3 things he must get done
  • 3 things he should get done
  • 3 things he would like to get done

“Without it,” Barchard states, “I get nothing done.”

I use Brendon Burchard’s One Page Productivity Planner, which helps me identify:

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  • Top 3 Priorities or Projects for the week
  • 3-5 things that must get done for each project by the end of the week
  • Person she must reach out to during the week
  • People she’s waiting on to deliver or respond to her by the end of the week
  • #1 most important thing that must get done during the week, no matter what

In addition to the one page productivity planner, I prints out my daily calendar for the work week and staple it behind my completed planner. Scheduled meetings must be in alignment with my top 3 priorities for the week. Everything gets done and my to-do list is manageable and do-able.

At work, Laurie M. of Londonderry, NH, divides things into “big rocks” and “little rocks” and she writes them in her daily planner. She explains that “big rocks equal what must get done today. Little rocks equal what she would like to get done today but no fire will be created if it doesn’t get done.”

Cross it Off

Most people want to feel productive. I bet you do, too. Crossing off a completed task on your to-do list creates a sense of accomplishment. Maureen M. of Derry, NH loves to “cross things off with a pink highlighter.” Lynn S. of Tewksbury, MA enjoys feeling productive when she crosses things off her to-do list. And some people will add something they did to their to-do list just so they can cross it off.

Stay Focused

One thing that will derail nearly every to-do list is either a lack of focus or your latest and greatest shiny object distraction. One way to regain control of your to-list is to simply fill in the blanks each day:

The most important thing I need to do for my personal life today is

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_______________________________

The most important thing I need to do for my professional life today is

_______________________________

The most important thing I need to do for my social life today is

_______________________________

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The most important thing I need to do for my physical well being today is

_______________________________

The most important thing I need to do for my spiritual life today is

_______________________________

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear what works for you…How do you keep your to-do list from running amok?

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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