To-Do Lists - Making Them Effective

To-do lists have been around for eons and it's hard to nail down who the first person was who decided to make a list of all the things they needed to get done. And, it really doesn't matter - they have become a ubiquitous part of business life for good or bad. Go online and you can read articles by respected journalists and business leaders who are fans and equally as many who think the to-do list is detrimental to productivity.

One of the major positives about creating a To-Do list is that they provide structure to your day, or week or whatever period they cover. They also reduce anxiety because having a task floating around in your brain, popping into your consciousness over and over again can be like someone nagging you to take action. Parking the task into a To-Do list allows you to plan a time when you will take action.

Of course, having a To-Do list can itself take the place of a nagging boss, spouse, or your own conscience. On the upside, To-Do list items can be crossed off when you complete them and that's a very positive feeling!

Studies have shown that we perform better if we have written down the things we need to achieve; it gives them structure and provides a system. In a way, it gets the job out in the open for a good airing.

Make your to-do list more effective

  • Make your list time-sensitive and don't be tempted to load it up too much. Nothing is more de-motivating than a list that is daunting and is unfinished by the end of the set time period.

  • Don't create one-word tasks - providing detail makes it more likely you will take action. Instead of: Call Bill Jones at Acme Plumbing, write: Call Bill Jones at Acme Plumbing ( re: overdue invoice. Adding Bill's number makes it easier to make the call next time you see the item on your list.

  • Don't list massive projects, or be vague about what needs to be done. Instead of: Start Hassop's report, write: Create table of contents for Hassop's report.

  • Put a (C) or an (S) beside each item. C = complex; S = simple. Make a rule that for every 2 simple tasks you undertake, you will tackle a complex task. It's far too tempting to deal with all the easy stuff first and then be left with a mountain of tough jobs. Preferably, start your day with one of your complex to-do's - you have more energy earlier in the day and completing the task will provide motivation.

  • If it looks like you've bitten off more than you can chew, or something urgent has come up, don't be afraid to re-work your list and schedule tasks for another day. Physically do this as soon as you know you are not going to be able to cross everything off your list, so you are not demotivated.

  • If a To-Do list seems a little too vague for you, diarize each item on your list and set an 'appointment' in your daybook to deal with it.

Dealing with 'sticky' To-Do list items

If something doesn't get done on your To-Do list by the end of the day, it likely won't get done the following day either. It's a 'sticky' item - one that you might be avoiding. If an item has been stuck for more than 2-days, break it down into smaller, more manageable, tasks and make it your top priority for the following day. Sticky items interfere with your productivity - they prey on your mind, draining your energy.

Got-done and Don't Do Lists

Some people say To-Do lists are ineffective, or even detrimental to productivity and instead promote the use of 'Got-Done' lists. A list of achievements is certainly motivating, but why not use both?

While you're about it, why not add a third list, a 'Don't Do' list? You might add, “Don't go onto Facebook until noon" or “Don't check emails until the top of each hour." Of course, this list is one that doesn't need to change frequently, but it could certainly aid your productivity.

At the end of the day, you have to decide what works for you, but there is no doubt lists aid planning and planning helps structure your workload and your day. Used correctly To-Do lists are a way of systemizing your business and that almost always is a good thing.

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