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When you have so much to do and don’t know where to start, you need to take control of your to-do list to help yourself get things done.
As a list freak, I often have different lists on the go for various projects, big and small. This can lead to complete overwhelm when I start trying to juggle everything to get things done.
When I don’t know what to start on, I know I need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory” – Francis Drake.
What does it mean to be productive to get things done?
The goal of productivity is about maximising your output over a period of time.
But it’s not as simple as that.
There is being busy, and then there is being efficient.
There is no point in completing tasks with no value or that don’t take you closer to meeting your goals.
We need to strive to ensure that ALL the activities we undertake have value to us.
It’s not about completing as many tasks as you can in a given time. It’s about getting the right things done, i.e. completing tasks that matter. Being productive has to focus on your goals so that you are always working on something of value.
The following steps form a time management strategy that will help get you closer to meeting your goals. You can get off the treadmill and become focused on getting things done that matter.
Step 1: Create a master to-do list.
Write a list of everything you need to do.
Include everything, big and small. Merge all of the lists you have been trying to control separately.
This is your master to-do list.
The master to-do list will be a continually evolving list of items. You add or remove items as and when you think about them or complete them.
Step 2: Keep the task-specific.
Be clear with what you write down for each task. The devil is in the detail.
If needed, break a large task down into several smaller tasks.
Smaller tasks help you focus on what is actually required.
Being specific will prevent you from drifting to unrelated tasks that don’t actually get you closer to completing your goal. Plus, the added benefit is that you will see the smaller jobs get ticked off as completed quicker, which is always a motivation boost.
Step 3: Triage your list.
Once you have your master to-do list, review each entry and prioritise them.
You may also want to categorise them into types of tasks, or linked to specific projects, etc. But this will depend on how large or complex your list is.
I use a priority matrix to assign the proper priority (I know it sounds technical, but it is simple, honest!).
By combining the Impact (Important, Non-important) and the Urgency (Urgent, Non-urgent), you can work out the priority using the following combinations:
Critical – Important & urgent
High – Important & not urgent
Medium – Not important & urgent
Low – Not important & not urgent
Obviously, it is up to you what is important or urgent, but bear in mind these pointers:
- Doing something unimportant well or quickly does not make it any more important.
- Something that requires a lot of time does not make it important.
Once you get to grips on prioritising and categorising tasks, you will quickly recognise which tasks are more important/urgent than other tasks.
Step 4: Only work on the top 3 items.
We all know how easy it is to get distracted, and before you know it, 3 hours have passed, and you have accomplished nothing – or is that just me!
So before you check your email, read the news or do anything else, plan out your day and start on your 3 highest priority tasks.
Many people go straight to complete the easy tasks first and put off anything more complex or taxing until later. This can result in a lot of stress trying to finish off more critical tasks too late.
Try to get all three of your highest priority tasks done before moving on to anything else. If you can do that, the rest of the day should be easy going!
The art of managing your to-do list to get things done.
Just because a task has a critical or high priority doesn’t mean that it will be challenging to do. It is often simply the number of tasks on your list that makes it all feel overwhelming. And having lots of small or quick tasks just adds to this feeling.
Working on the small quick tasks first, to get them out of the way, may seem like a good plan. But if they are all quick but unimportant, you are just putting more pressure on yourself and delaying reaching your goals.
By completing your tasks in the correct priority order, you ensure that what you work on has the highest value to you. This means, in turn, that you are more able to get things done that are important.
By following this approach, you know that whatever you are working on is important and will get you to your goal quicker.
Eventually, you will get round to all the small tasks, but only when they are important enough to do based on everything else that needs to get done. Or maybe they will eventually fall off your list as they are no longer relevant – you’ll then be glad you never wasted your time on them!
This is how to master your to-do list and feel in control again.
Keeping a digital version of your list may be helpful to keep it updated whilst you are on the move.
There are many apps and tools out there to help you manage your list.
I’ve used several notes and list apps over the last few years. All have their benefits and drawbacks. Here are some of the ones I have used.
I used Evernote to jot down all my thoughts and keep track of my life, which synced across my desktop, phone and iPad. However, over time it became a complete mess. This was not the tool’s fault. I just didn’t keep everything as organised as I should. I found that I would save things and then forget about them. Plus, I decided I’d try to see if I could use a free tool rather than pay to use it across all platforms.
I then played with Trello, which worked great. But if I’m honest, because I had to go out of my way to find it on the internet, I kept forgetting to use it. This has maybe changed since I last used it in anger.
Now, I have become a HUGE fan of Notion*. I am slowly transferring all my still relevant Evernote and Trello notes across using the out of the box integrations. I am also creating myself a Dashboard within Notion that keeps me in control of my task list. This Dashboard takes into account all of the above points and I am finding it invaluable.
A simple daily planner printable also helps take these principles into account and helps you plan your day. This is something you can have on your desk if you prefer something physical to work from.
If you want more time management to help you get things done then take a look here.