Monday Mantra: How to make a to-do list and stick to it

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Make a to-do list and stick to it. Photo credit

Times are busier than ever in our lives. With so much to do and manage, time just seems to fall short. You may be a college student, a home maker or a hot shot CEO, time is a precious commodity not available in as much abundance as we would like it to be. I am a freelance corporate trainer and find myself torn between my work, running by blog and handling household chores and issues. The to-do list keeps piling – research, writing, training, promoting, laundry/grocery/bills (let’s accept it, it’s still a woman’s job) – and time just vanishes. Some times with no time left for hobbies like reading and movies. I have been held at ransom by time and had to figure something out where I could be on top of all my work rather than the other way round!

Here are a few things that I have tried to do and have had success to a large extent in getting the most important tasks done for the day.

Make a list of all important tasks

It’s as simple as it sounds. Put all the tasks you can think of in a list. You keep adding to this as things occur to you at any point in time. This will be the list you can dip into even in the future to check for pending tasks.

Categorize your tasks

I find bunching tasks very helpful. It could be research, writing, household chores, errands to run when I step out. This helps me complete the related tasks together and don’t get distracted by other things.  For instance, putting all outdoor tasks together helps me get the most out of my trip. Once, I am home, I can strike out all those tasks at once. What a huge happiness that is! It is more like Eisenhower matrix, but just for categories and not on the basis of urgency (which we will deal with in the next point)

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Eisenhower Matrix. Photo credit

Similarly, you could group emails and other correspondence at high energy blocks of the day and deal with all admin/paper work for low energy blocks of the day. This way all emails are answered and you free to carry on with other important tasks for the day. Plus there is time allocated for boring paper wok to get out of the way too.

Find top 3 tasks you want to finish today

As usual, there are more tasks than time, right? As much as we’d like, it is impossible to achieve everything in one day. So, we need to look at the most important tasks and prioritize them (apart from the regulars like emails, filing reports etc)

“Pick top three tasks that you wish to finish today. This will keep you focussed” Click To Tweet

Out of the longer list and categories, you may want to cull out top 3 (or 5 tasks) to be accomplished on that day. This helps us focus on what needs to be done despite last minute, unforeseen jobs that land on our plate. Leave the not-so-urgent tasks for the next day or closer to their deadlines.

Most times, one task requires a few sub tasks to achieve it. And so, saying ‘write a report’ may not mean just one task. If you are just beginning to write your content, you will also have to plan, jot down points and structure the before you start writing. If you are in the middle of the task, you will need to complete it, edit and proofread it. And these sub-tasks are generally time consuming. Hence 3 might seem like a small number but it actually isn’t. 

Focus on your tasks

Fighting distractions is the toughest challenge today. And we all agree that despite our super human efforts, we often slip and sneak peak into social media or give in to other online diversions. But if any time management technique has to work, the determination to control these diversions is essential.

For instance, when I write, I need to focus on just that. Distractions only make the process longer, tedious and disruptive to the thought flow. But I sit in a cafe with no internet or close my browser at home to ensure I am not tempted to online, unless it is for research. Switching off the wifi on my laptop works the best. You may require internet for your work. But you can still switch off distracting online activities. 

Log out of your social networking sites. Logging in every time makes it harder to get distracted. Click to Tweet

You are the best judge of how things will work for you.

And finally

Assuming that things have been so good so far, do a rain check at the end of the day to see your progress. More often than not we are behind schedule and rarely ahead. But since you have the list written down, you can go back to your first list and plan for the next day along with pending work from today. I have found that making lists, physical or otherwise, ensures that even long pending tasks aren’t forgotten and make their way in the top 3 list at an appropriate time.

This is just a suggested process that has helped me stay on top of my work, more or less! You can modify it to suit your needs and job profile. 

Further reading:

Here is my favourite method of time management. It is simple and easy to use. You can combine this into your routine the way it comfortably fits.

Cheat Sheet: Agile Results at a Glance

Here is  the complete version of Agile results, if you wish to read it

30 days of getting results

Do you have any techniques to beat distractions and manage time better? Drop me a line in the comments so that others can benefit from your tips too!

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