We all dream of being experts at productivity, right? We go to sleep at night with big hopes of getting huge projects done the next day and we picture that coveted feeling of accomplishment. But when tomorrow comes, life happens. We start to forget the little things and suddenly we’re running around like chickens with our heads missing.
So what better way to keep us on track than using a to-do list? Here are our seven favorite ways to stay on task so you can get that house project done or that hobby started.
Make sure it’s easy to see
Keep your to-do list with you and within eyesight at all times. Remembering this will help you remain positive throughout the day and motivated to check off items as you go. If you’re using an app, set up alerts for every couple of hours to remind you of your list. If you’re using a paper method, have it posted within eyesight and not buried in a drawer or your bag.
Keep it to three things
When it comes to listing your tasks, less is more. A general rule of thumb is to keep your tasks at three per day. But if you can’t do that, try to keep it to one big project, three medium tasks and five small activities. Ensure your tasks (quantity and complexity) remain reasonable and realistic. If your to-do list is bogged down by too many tasks, you’ll be far less likely to mark off even one action item. Getting overwhelmed is common with a lengthy to-do list and it’s easy to call it quits and not even try. So keep your tasks reasonable and achievable.
Estimate the time each task will take
Allotting time to each task not only keeps your list reasonable, but it also forces you to be accountable for where your time went. As you move throughout your day, you’ll be more aware of how much you’ve accomplished and how successful your day will be. If you aren’t satisfied with your progress, then you are aware of this notion early on while you still have the time to alter your to-do list in way that ensures your day goes in a more productive direction. Some apps allow for time sections, and there are also paper planners that have times written down the side of each day so you can visually see where your time is going.
Pick your method
Paper or digital? You may have some nostalgic memories of good old paper and pencil lists, but with the organization apps out there today, you should consider bringing your tasks into the digital realm. This will make your to-dos available from anywhere, at any time with the added bonuses of email integration, file sharing, and inter-app communication. Apps like Wunderlist, Todoist and Any.do are a few popular choices. Some even allow for seamless list sharing between family members, meaning that grocery stop after work will result in a complete haul coming home. No more forgotten milk, eggs, or meat!
Prepare the day before
Always try and prepare your list the day (or night) before. This will keep your head clear and your goals established for the following day. You can wake up and run with your to-do list or wake up and waste precious morning light crafting your list and struggling under the weight of a new day with new problems. We prefer the first option.
Make it public
This is where a paper to-do list could come in handy. Jot down your to-do list on a note pad or whiteboard and stick it on the fridge. If your family sees it, then you’re more likely to complete your to-dos for the day. You’ll feel more accountable and substantially more motivated. But the same also goes for those list-sharing apps. If you have a shared family to-do list, you’ll be less likely to skip all your tasks because you’ll have the questioning eyes of your family to deal with when nothing gets done.
What’s accountability without a reward? Every time you mark off a task, take a moment to consider your accomplishment—whether you just finished a large report or you finally washed your car, that feeling of finishing a task will keep you motivated to continue checking things off your list. Or, you can plan a reward for each task being accomplished. For example, you could treat yourself to a hot beverage from your favorite coffee shop on the way home from a successful grocery shopping trip. Or you could watch an episode of your favorite show after finishing a work project.
However you decide to organize your life, make sure it’s tailored to you. What motivates one person to accomplish tasks won’t be the same for the next person. Tweak your method until you find your rhythm, and once you do, you’ll be a productivity machine!