People who thrive for an organized work schedule normally prefer to maintain a to-do list. Others who are not so serious or those who generally don’t have the habit of doing things in an organized manner do not maintain to-do lists.
Not to mention, some are just not comfortable working with to-do lists. However, it is always excellent to do things in an organized and matured manner and you can do it by following a to-do list.
While the scope of this post is to tell you about writing an effective to-do list, I want to highlight a few points on why to maintain a to-do list, for those who don’t feel compelled about having one.
A to-do list tells you a list of things that you need to do for a day (preferably; but you can also have to-do lists for weeks and months).
Instead of consulting your wife/husband, your staff at the office, your driver and your accountant, you can just consult the to-do list which is with you.
You can save a lot of time and energy by organizing things in a efficient manner. For example, meeting a person at place X, getting a document signed at place Y, sending a fax at place X can be done by effectively by grouping all the tasks that need to be done at the same place, say X here.
This surely will not come to your mind if you don’t see all the tasks in one place! You will wander back and forth between places if you don’t have a handy list.
More importantly, a to-do list is more reliable in the sense that you don’t have to depend upon your memory.
It has lot more benefits and also acts as a feedback. You know what you have accomplished today. It shows to you if you are a procrastinator. It tells you your performance. And, it helps you to organize your next day.
Now on to writing a to-do list, effectively – A to-do list without the effective part is when you jot down the list of things you have to do for a day.
It is a collection of all the tasks that need your attention. Well, that’s what a to-do list is, but what makes it effective? Here you go:
A effective to-do list prioritizes every task in the list. Besides every task, there lies its priority.
How can you do things effectively by just having a list and not knowing which item in the list needs your utmost attention? You cannot just start doing things in a list, this will be a highly ineffective way of doing things.
While you write a to-do list as a simple list, you write those things which come to your mind. So they lie in that order.
A most important task which has a deadline or upon which another task is dependent will only gain your attention in the order in which it appears in the list. So you may use any tool that is easy for you to prioritize your list.
For example, you can write the list with colored sketch pens – Red for the most urgent task and blue for the least urgent one.
An effective to-do list takes care of past happenings. You need to recall what happened last time when you completed that project half a day later than the deadline. Or think of what happened last time
Know your limits and working style
An effective to-do list is always written by knowing one’s limits. The list should not be something that is a overwhelming collection of tasks. You know how much you can accomplish in an hour or in a day.
So do not pile up the list with more than what you can do, this will result in a number of tasks left incomplete in the list, compels you to procrastinate, steals your confidence that you can not accomplish so much, and finally results in distress eventually.
Also do identify those times of the day when you are most productive and those times when you are least productive.
After all, you are human and not a computer and you need to take breaks and appropriate rest. So set aside time for breaks (these are called productive breaks) and take rest too.
If you are most productive in the morning before coffee (at your office) then allot a difficult or an important task for that time. If you feel kinda sleepy after lunch set aside small tasks, tasks which you like to work or tasks which are entertaining for those times.
Follow a productive pattern
An effective to-do list should have a productive pattern. What is it? It involves the idea discussed in the previous point.
And, in addition it should have a task-weight pattern. The list should not (preferably) have difficult tasks in a line or little tasks occurring in sequence.
The list should spread out the tasks according to their difficulty and the time taken to complete them. Putting together two difficult tasks or tasks that take longer to complete will simply make you boring and tired.
You will not have enough fuels to complete all the tasks in the list. In short, you will lose your productivity. So, as appropriate, spread out the tasks in a productive pattern.
Set aside time
Last, but not necessarily the least, an effective to-do list is not written on the go or just when are watching TV or chatting with your friend. You should not write it when you are utmost tired and are writing the list while lying down, the last thing before going to bed. You should set aside some time exclusively to write an effective to-do list.
If you are starting up to maintain to-do lists then you might need to set aside some time between 15 to 30 minutes solely for the purpose of writing an effective to-do list. If you are already using to-do lists then you might need about 10 to 15 minutes to write one.
Here is an exercise for you
Write two to-lists at one sitting for two days, one of which is a business day and the other a holiday. For one (the holiday one), ignore the part that makes it effective and just jot down the tasks you need to do. For the other (the business one), make it effective by following these strategies.
Note down your performance for both of these lists on the end of the respective days, in terms of the time allocated (was it less or more for a task), timing the task, your completion of all the tasks in the list, your procrastination rate and your overall productivity.
On a weekend analyze these two notes and find the short falls of an ineffective to-do list. You will never write an ineffective one again!
Do share your thoughts and the outcome of the exercise here.