Unfortunately, it’s possible to be overwhelmed by a large To Do list with a series of seemingly endless tasks.
Here are 11 tips that can help you manage your To Do list:
1. Purge Older Tasks
A To Do list is like a hedge; it needs to be pruned regularly.
I find it really helpfully to go through my To Do lists once a week and delete tasks which I’ve decided not to complete, or which are no longer necessary. This isn’t a case of avoiding work, it’s more about reviewing my commitments on a regular basis.
2. Use Verbs and Keep Tasks short
Rather than writing things like “blog”, “coffee” or “plugins”, it’s more helpful to write tasks like:
- Write a post about To Do lists
- Buy coffee for the office
- Update WordPress plugins
Then, when I return to my To Do list after a hiatus I can instantly see what I have to do, rather than having to spend time deciphering what “blog” means.
3. Clarify Tasks and Projects
As David Allen regularly says, some To Do items are tasks while other To Do items are projects.
For example, I currently want to a paint our spare bedroom. Up until recently, I would have considered this a To Do item. In fact, it’s a project which can be broken into a series of To Do items like:
- Choose paint
- Buy supplies
- Prepare room
And so on.
It’s not always necessary to break down a task like this, but it’s useful to be aware of the differences between a task and a project.
4. Keep Multiple To Do Lists
I’m aware this reads like a misnomer but I find it far more productive to keep multiple To Do lists. Each of these To Do lists is specific to a particular project or location. Some of my current To Do lists include:
That way, I complete items on my To Do list that apply to where I am and what I am doing.
5. Categorise Certain To Do Items as Waiting For and Someday Maybe
This is from the pages of Getting Things Done.
There are lots of tasks on my lists which I’d like to complete but which I don’t have the resources or inclination to do immediately.
I annotate these tasks as Someday Maybe items. Similarly, there are tasks which I can’t complete until I receive information from other people. I annotate these tasks with the Waiting For tag.
This way I am not losing track of important tasks which are not a priority.
6. Complete the Most Important Task First Thing
As the day goes on interruptions will inevitably appear and interrupt progress through a To Do list. This is why I find it really helpful to complete the most important task on my To Do list in the morning. After that, I will complete my second most important task, and so on.
That way, if I accomplish nothing else during the day, I’ve completed my most important task for the day. This means not checking email, social media or news websites first thing.
7. Be Aware of How You Work
I normally hit a lull in the afternoon. I try to write in the morning or late evening and keep the afternoon for tasks that don’t necessarily require much brainpower.
Typically afternoon tasks include shopping, upgrading software, testing new software, making phone calls and so on.
8. Review and Track Your Progress
There’s nothing more satisfying that a crossed out To Do list. This is why I find it really useful to sit down at least once a week and review my completed items.
There are also lots of handy services like I Done This, which can help you track your progress on a daily basis.
I also ask myself why I was unable to complete the uncrossed items, consider what resources I need to complete them, and if they really need to be completed.
9. Use Deadlines
Some people find deadlines really imposing, but they are actually powerful productivity tools. I attach artificial deadlines to my tasks.
If a task has an actual deadline, I attach an artificial deadline that is several hours or a day or two before the real deadline.
This way, I am training myself to get into the habit of meeting deadlines and even if they I do miss my artificial deadline, it’s not a disaster.
10. Avoid Overloading To Do Lists
There’s nothing wrong with a large To Do list, but I’m wary of putting too many irrelevant tasks on one. Each item carries an expectation that it will completed. And this can be mentally draining.
One way around this is to keep a list of things I’d like to read, see, watch or listen to on a separate list. Another trick is to delegate or postpone certain tasks.
11. Make Space for Interruptions
Interruptions are the essence of working life. Dealing effectively with them is a key skill in today’s working world. Some interruptions, like a phone call, can be quickly put to one side while others, like a boss, must be dealt with immediately.
The key is to document any tasks that arise out of the interruption or, if completely interrupted, return to the original task at hand as soon as it’s convenient. Just make a note to do so.
Please let me know in the comments section below about how you manage your To Do lists, or connect with me on your preferred social media channel.
Photo remixed via Zach Klein.