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You know that feeling when you look at your to do list for the day and you see everything checked off – when you get to sit back and relax knowing you got it all done?
Ummm… do you know what that feels like?
Because I can guarantee if you’re reading this post, you’re not ticking everything off your to do list.
And if I’m going to be super honest with you, I almost never tick everything off my to do list. BUT, I do sit back at the end of each day, happy with what I have achieved because I know I have taken care of the most important things for the day.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that we have to actually do everything on our to do list in order to feel productive, but that’s just not the case. What you need to get done versus what you want to get done are two very different things.
However, what we see many people doing time and time again is cramming their to do list with every task under the sun, far too many to possibly manage in one day, and then feeling like a failure when they haven’t ticked it all off at the end of the day.
The key to feeling productive is being productive and the key to being productive is having a to do list that doesn’t suck.
Here’s some of the problems you might face with your to do list and the solutions to them:
The Problem – You Have Too Many Tasks On Your List
As I mentioned before, I see so many people cram so many things onto their to do list that unless they’re in the Matrix, that to do list is just not getting done.
I am all for writing out all of the things you need to get done, brain dumping tasks onto a page is a great way for you to be able to clear your mind, and focus on what needs to be achieved.
However, all of these tasks do not need to go onto your to do list today.
When you simply write a list with a bunch of tasks on it, there is no focus, there’s no structure, you’ll jump from task to task and maybe complete a few but chances are they won’t be the most important tasks anyway.
So how do we fix it?
The Solution – Set 3 Priority Tasks
All of my to-do lists have at least two sections – the first is the 3 priority tasks. They are the 3 non-negotiable, must get done no matter what, tasks for the day.
They have the highest priority, and here’s the important part:
If I only get these three tasks done, then I feel like I have had a productive day and accomplished all I need to.
That is how important those three priority tasks are. We all have them, and some days it might be as simple as getting the laundry done, other days it might be a doctors appointment, or grocery shopping or booking your car in for a service.
It doesn’t matter what the tasks are specifically, as long as if you only complete those three tasks, you’ll still feel like you’ve been productive and achieved what needed to be achieved that day.
Then, the second part of the list is the ‘it would be nice to’ list. These are the tasks that would be nice to get done, but aren’t as important as the priority tasks.
This often takes the form of a general to do list, but I also put little marks next to the tasks that are more important than others on this list.
Anything that doesn’t get done, goes onto the list for the next day, and depending on what it is, it may become a priority task, or it may stay on the ‘it would be nice to’ list.
One KEY thing to note here, I ALWAYS make sure that at least one of the priority tasks is something that is helping me move towards a goal.
It would be so easy to fill the priority tasks up with housework, or general motherhood/life/work things, but I make sure at least one of these tasks is helping me move towards achieving whatever goal I’m working on at the time.
The Problem – You Never Get It All Done
So you have your priority tasks, and you’ve got your ‘it would be nice to’ list, and in your mind you feel like it’s a reasonable amount of things to do in one day…
But then the phone rings, and the traffic is horrible, and the coffee spills everywhere… and all of a sudden that list of what you think you can achieve is getting smaller and smaller and you never actually get done what you set out to achieve.
The Solution – Add ‘Time To Complete’ Next To Your Tasks
If time is one of your biggest challenges, then using a ‘time to complete’ rule next to your tasks is going to be a big help.
I’m the kind of person who thinks I can complete a one hour task in 10 minutes, and forgets that the 10 minute drive home from the post office actually means it will take me 10 minutes to get there too – therefore I cannot duck to the post office and back in 15 minutes.
Putting a ‘time to complete’ next to each task helps you actually plan out your day and shows you what is (and isn’t) reasonably achieved in one day.
Be sure, if you’re doing this, to allow for time between tasks too. This will help you keep on track and not become totally derailed if there’s a delay in part of your day (like spilling your coffee everywhere – or is that just me??) or if a task takes longer to complete than you thought.
This is such an effective way to plan your day and can also help you group tasks together to make the most of your time.
The Problem – The Tasks Are Too Big
To Do List Item #1 – Landscape the Backyard
Is this what your to do list looks like! Sheesh! No wonder you’re not getting it all done!
Seriously though, if your to do list is filled with grand tasks like this, that don’t really knuckle down the steps and actions you need to take, then you’re never going to feel like you’re accomplishing anything (and what you do achieve is going to take you waaaaay longer than it should).
The Solution – Create Micro Tasks For Each Big Task
Think about the task of making a cup of coffee – how many steps go into this task? 3? 4? Can I tell you, it’s way more than that!
When you break a task like making a cup of coffee down to each and every step, you’ll see just how many micro tasks go into each big task.
For example, to make a cup of coffee you need to open the cupboard, choose your coffee mug, grab the coffee mug, close the cupboard, set the coffee mug down on the bench, grab the kettle, open the lid to the kettle, put the kettle underneath the tap, turn the tap water on, fill the kettle, turn the tap water off, close the kettle lid, return the kettle and plug it into the wall, turn the power on, switch the kettle on and wait for it to boil.
That’s 15 micro tasks and we haven’t even finished boiling the kettle yet!
How many steps go into landscaping a yard?
While you don’t have to go into as much detail as we did when making a cup of coffee, the point is still the same, you need to break down a task into smaller steps in order to actually complete the task.
The larger task itself cannot be completed in one day, and therefore shouldn’t be on your to do list. However some of the smaller steps may be able to be done, and therefore help you work towards completing the larger task.
For each big task you have, break it down into smaller tasks that you can achieve in a day, and add them to your to do list (bonus points if you add how long each task would take to complete).
The Problem – I Don’t Know Where To Start
So you’ve got your to do list sorted, you’ve got your priorities and you ‘it would be nice to’ list… but… now what?
You know you need to get your priorities done first, but which one? And when you’ve done them, how do you work out what needs to be done next?
If you’re stuck in the ‘I don’t know where to start’ phase then you won’t start… and what happens when you don’t start? You don’t finish and you don’t get things done! That is not what we want. So let’s fix it.
The Solution – Ask Yourself These 3 Questions
Whenever you need to work out which task to start with, whether it’s your priority tasks or your ‘it would be nice to’ tasks, ask yourself these questions to help work out which needs to be done first:
What Absolutely Must Get Done Today
So we know these are your priority tasks, but even of these three, which is the most important to get done?
Then after you’ve done these three, and move onto your ‘it would be nice to’ tasks, which of these almost made the priority list cut?
Prioritising tasks is a great way to help work out where you need to start.
What Is Going To ‘Move The Needle’
Which of these tasks is going to have the biggest impact? Which is going to make you feel like you’ve achieved the most? And when it comes to achieving your goals, which of these tasks is going to help you get there?
What Is Going To Make Me Feel Good
Sometimes the most important tasks are the ones that simply make us feel good. Self care is a perfect example of this. There are days when the most important task for me is to spend an hour watching my favourite TV show, drinking my coffee while it’s still hot, and simply spending time by myself.
This has seriously been priority number one for me some days. Because you cannot achieve any of these tasks on your to do list if you are burnt out and have nothing left to give.
What makes you feel good might not be self care, it might be a household chore (I know having clean floors really does make me feel good), catching up with a friend, or doing something you’ve adding to your to do list for weeks now but finally want to tick off.
Asking yourself these three questions will help you to determine which tasks are most important and where you should start, but in the end it all comes down to one thing – actually doing the work.
The things on your to do list aren’t going to magically do themselves, you need to do the work and get them done. And sometimes that means simply starting. From the top, from the middle, from wherever – you just need to start.
Once you realise how to manage your to do list properly, and create a to do list that doesn’t suck, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive (and less busy) you are!
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