Are you looking for a new to-do list as way to better manage your tasks and priorities? Maybe you’re looking for a new way to define your day?
I have always written task lists and ‘to-do’ lists, (I am a keen notepad hoarder) but when I started to work from home in 2016, I realised that my to-do lists weren’t actually helping me.
I was either looking for the easiest task to get done, then I’d procrastinate on the rest and not executing the important tasks that I knew were listed down on there, somewhere (my to-do lists are quite something!)
Or, I’d write a task down I needed to do, lose the piece of paper / card / post it note and then forget what I wrote down.
I often felt exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed.
It often looked like this…
- Look at the to-do list
- Jot down any new ones, on a new page
- Start with the easiest
- Achieve only the easiest
- End my day
- Stress about tomorrow
- Back to number 1
I worked really hard and I knew I should not be stressing about my day tomorrow because I knew I wasn’t making progress on my tasks and to-do list, I should have been feeling accomplished at the end of my day.
I now use the MIT (Most Important Task) system, GTD, Deep working, Parkinson’s Law and Pomodorro to complete my actions to be super productive.
What will you take away today?
By the end of this post, you will know how to create your daily, weekly and monthly to do list and prioritise your tasks for maximum efficiency.
Who is this for?
This post is for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of tasks they need to do and organise or those who are looking to improve their current system
How to create a to-do list to accomplish more
Get clear on your goals
The problem I found was that my to-do lists weren’t meaningful to me, they were simply a list of tasks which I just knew I needed to get done.
In order to have clear direction and motivation, you must be setting goals for yourself and the reason why my to-do list was simply ineffective for me was simply that I did not set them.
Aside from the above is that if you are not setting goals there is nothing to measure. Even though I was busy, I felt I had nothing much to show for it.
It was when I’d set myself goals that my productivity increased and I knew the tasks I needed to complete in line with my goals.
Categorise your focus areas
Most if not all of your tasks are actually related to one another; I have categorised mine in the following way;
- Client Work
- Personal Development
All of these categories relate to goals which I have set myself in these areas, referring back to Step no. 1. Categorising my tasks also allows me to focus on one area at a time for example, if I chunk 20 minutes of time to complete ‘Home’ tasks, I don’t get sidetracked into looking at ‘Personal Development’ tasks whilst reviewing my ‘Home’ tasks.
- Note down all of the areas you know you focus on, use mine above as a base if you wish
Write a list
This will likely take the longest time but stick with it.
- Brainstorm and capture EVERYTHING you know you need to get done or need to remember, writing each task on a new line, underneath each other.
I use Evernote, Asana and my notepad to capture tasks, reminders and ideas I have and since I have my iPad and iPhone, I can add to them anywhere.
It’s important to keep your note-taking inboxes minimal to prevent losing or misplacing data.
Having this master inbox of to do’s now enables you to see everything you need to get done.
Already have them in multiple lists?
Transfer them all across to your new, main inbox list.
Why write it down?
Your brain isn’t made to hold ideas, it’s made to generate them, the moment you write it down you will train your brain to not think of that anymore since you have noted it, just remember you need to keep your to-do list up to date.
- Brainstorm and capture EVERYTHING you know you need to get done writing each task on a new line, underneath each other.
This will become your main inbox of tasks and should include daily, weekly and monthly tasks.
I have written down a task which can't be completed in one action
It is likely that at this stage you realise that the task which you’ve written down is actually a ‘project’. A project being something which is not based on task and then it is complete. It consists of many tasks to complete.
In this instance, you need to be clear what the exact next step is when coming to complete this task.
When you have that documented, think about the next step. The very next step. This next step becomes your task.
Take this as an example;
Task written down: Write blog post for this week.
Now, you can’t, or at least it’s not good practice, to go ahead and write the blog post in one and publish straight after, so you’ll need to break this down into your ‘next steps’.
The example continued would be to choose a topic. This is your next step to completing the blog post for this week. It would then continue, leading on to your next outcome of outlining your blog post and so on, until the blog post is complete.
As a conclusion, the task you initially wrote down was ‘Write blog post for this week’.
It now looks like this as an example;
- ‘Write blog post for this week’
- Choose topic
- Write outline
- Conduct research
- Write post
- Review and edit to make improvements
- Find images to enhance the post
- Review the post again, make any improvements / edits
- Publish post
When taking this task from your master list to concentrate on, ensure that you have broken your task down so you have the most absolute next action.
Identify your main outcome for the day
On this step, you want to identify what your specific outcome(s) is/are for the day. Clarity is power in this case. If you are clear on what you want, you’ll find ways to get there quicker.
When choosing your outcome(s) for the day, you want to ensure that you make it clear and understand why you want to achieve the outcome. Focus on the results you’re going to get and not the tasks and actions you’ll take.
Prompt; What, by the end of today/tomorrow (depending on when you’re planning) do I want to have achieved?
My main outcome of the day usually is to ensure I have my most important tasks completed, my day ends in a chilled and stress free state, and I have my day for tomorrow planned.
- Open a new page
- Write the date
- At the top of your page, write your main outcome for the day
Identify your purpose
Make it clear to yourself why you want to achieve the outcome you have set for the day. Your purpose will drive you forward if things get tough.
Just a note here; I was hooked up I’m trying to find a fancy ‘why’. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complex, just a desire to do it. Most of the time mine looks like this;
Outcome: To ensure I have my most important tasks completed, my day ends in a chilled and stress free state, and I have my day for tomorrow planned.
Purpose: To reduce my stress and worry levels, thus reducing them radiating to my family members. I like to have an organised end to my day.
The ‘why’s’ beyond day to day outcomes are much more focused and clarified, for example the purpose against my life goals and outcomes.
- At the top of your page, underneath your outcome, write your main purpose for achieving that outcome for the day.
Review and identify the most important tasks for the day (or the next day if you’re planning for tomorrow)
In this step, we’re going to be defining your day enabling you to work on tasks you want and need to get done rather than as they come to you, meaning, you’ll feel a whole lot more accomplished.
I learned this technique from Josh Kaufman of The Personal MBA.
Your most important tasks are the ones which create significant results.
If these tasks were the only ones you completed or made progress on, on that day, they would leave you feeling satisfied or it would make a significant difference to you, your business or your employer/job?
Prompt; What is the most important task(s) I must get done today/tomorrow?
If you have multiple ‘important’ tasks but you’re unsure which to prioritise, ask yourself;
The most costly tasks are likely that of most importance.
- From your main inbox to do list of tasks you created from your capture session, go through and pick out your top – 2-3 most important next tasks for the day
- It is preferable that you choose your least favourite, important tasks to be first on the list.
Doing the least favourite task on your most important task list first, is a really good feeling. Brian Tracy labels these tasks as frogs and you should eat the ugliest (most least favourite) task first if you have multiple.
Most important action seem too big?
Have you broken your tasks or ‘projects’ down into the next actions as I explained above, when you first wrote your tasks down? If not, take your task, and ask yourself, what is the VERY next action I need to take to get me closer to reaching this overall task or ‘project’ to completion?
Review the task and ensure it is CLEAR what you need to do.
Now you have your top 2-3 most important tasks for the day, break them down into a more manageable, clear and achievable state if it is not already clear.
Set yourself a deadline, aiming to have it done in the quickest time possible, ideally before lunch.
This is where Parkinson’s Law comes into force. Parkinson’s law states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion”.
It’s important that this isn’t to be used to set yourself unrealistic time frames to complete tasks. You’ll be placing artificial limitations to your work in order for you to complete them more efficiently.
An example here could be: You need to write next weeks blog post, you normally do this in 2 hours, but you’ve set a tight deadline to get it done in 1 hour.
Essentially here, if you take the quote from C Northcote Parkinson
You’ll be looking to set a deadline for less time available to complete your task thus achieving more in less time.
I schedule to get work completed before lunch because I know this is my focus time and when I am at my best in productivity.
Schedule your tasks and reminders into your calendar.
I schedule literally everything into my calendar, and I use time blocking.
If your task isn’t scheduled, you haven’t committed to doing it.
An example here; I schedule my top 3 most important tasks, estimating (or using actual time tracking fact – highly recommended) into my calendar, then I ‘chunk’ other time into my diary for my other tasks I’d like to get done in the day.
This is where I do ‘deep work’ which is focused, time blocked work.
- Take your most important tasks and schedule them into your calendar into blocks of focus time.
- Add in any appointments you need to schedule into your calendar that are on in your inbox to-do list.
Review your task list again and enter the next actions after your most important tasks
When you’ve entered your most important tasks for the day at the top of the page, continue by reviewing your master inbox and deciding if it is actionable, do you NEED to do this? No? Dispose of it or keep it notes elsewhere for reference.
If it is actionable, do you need to do this now? If not, defer it until a later date. If you do need to do this now, then add it to your next action list.
If you notice a task on your list which you’re waiting for someone else one, mark is as waiting for or add it to a ‘waiting’ list then come back to it in the review step (keep reading).
Don’t overwhelm yourself at this point, review your master inbox of to-do’s and select maybe 5, you can always add more on if you complete them and have time left.
Prompt; What else would I like to get done today?
Take action, starting with your priority list.
You may not get all your tasks completed so DO NOT FRET about this, your task list is a guidance for the day, however, as you’ve listed your tasks by priority, starting with your least favourite in preference, you will hopefully have completed one most important task for the day and achieved progress on the others or even completed them, before moving on to your next actions.
When moving on to your next actions, identify ones which take 2 minutes or less. Get them done and out of the way first. Then, cross them off!
And if you don’t get it all done – get into the mindset that making small progress is better than panicking about getting nothing done (especially if you have your children home) and subsequently achieving nothing.
Reflect on how you feel about getting that most important, least favourite task out of the way first thing.
I’ll also point out that other important things will crop up and your schedule will likely change and indeed a new important task may be required for completion, you can always change your plan based on the importance and priority of the new task, it was working with what you already had and therefore was the best plan you created at that moment in time.
Update your task list as you go
If a new task comes through in the day, subject to it not being of high importance, I note it down into my main task list, I then spend 15 minutes at the end of the day updating my plan for the next day.
The very moment you have a new idea, task you need to do or appointment you need to remember, write it down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken in the night or been partway through a task or meeting and I have not remembered it when I next go to my desk.
Most importantly when updating your list, cross off the tasks you have completed, as you complete them.
Review your system frequently
In order for you to see if the system is working for you and to ensure you have everything you need, you need to review it frequently.
I review my system weekly. I have noted down the actions to do this along with some examples.
- Collate together all tasks which you may have missed through the week, check emails, voice messages, direct messages, letters and do another brain download. Did you have a meeting last week? Go back and note down any actions or ideas you had from that meeting. Add them to your master inbox to-do list.
- Review your next actions and tick off any which you actually have completed.
- Review your upcoming meetings and ensure you have noted down all of the tasks which you need to complete in preparation for that meeting. This could include an agenda.
- When we added some tasks to the waiting for list, review these and note down next actions in order to follow up, if required. If you put something into waiting list but you actually received it, tick it off.
- Review all projects you are currently working on, identify the very next steps for these projects and add them to your list.
What was the top thing you are taking away from this post?
Do you have any other tips to share with the community reading this post?
Let me know in the comments below and as always, please use the information and knowledge I share to make a change, self improvement or breakthrough as taking action is the only way forward to succeeding. Please, don’t let this post be another item getting lost in your bookmarks.
What questions do you have for me? You can contact me directly or leave me a comment.