Time and time again, I have written about the power of to-do lists and why you should make them. To-do lists can help us in more ways than one. Having a list gives you a direction for your day, and you are not running around with no tact. It shows you what tasks are a priority, and what needs to be done when. It highlights the time required for each task, and how you should plan your day.
You start your day with a positive attitude, ready to conquer the world. But most days you have a lot of important things to attend to, that it becomes impossible to prioritize. On days like these, we don’t get most of the things on our lists done, because we are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tasks.
Writing down what you need to achieve can help you have a clear vision towards it. Some people make the mistake of writing too many things on their to-do lists, and that just makes them panicky because it is not possible to complete that many tasks in a day. If something that is meant to help you, ends up making you anxious, then that is surely not good.
If you follow proper protocols… that sounds too technical, doesn’t it? Well, let’s put it this way. If you just keep a few things in mind while making your to-do list, then you will see the kind of positive effect it has on your day, and your ability to do all your work efficiently.
1. Prepare your to-do lists the night before
At the end of the day, you know what you have completed, and what needs your attention next. It is the best time to create a game plan for the next day. It’s like getting a head start. When you make a list at night, you already know what you need to focus on first the next day, what work you can fit in, considering your schedule.
If you wake up early, then you can use that time as well, but before going to bed is a good time to strategize. You don’t have to wake up to the task of planning then. Putting indicators to tasks that are priorities, urgent, or can be put-off, is something that will help you go about your day as soon as you wake up. If you are not an early riser, then making a list in advance will let you know at what time to wake up to keep your day running smoothly.
For me, I make a list of my three MITs (Most Important Tasks). It is advised to make a list of 2-3 MITs and try to achieve them as soon as possible, they are critical tasks that yield the most significant results.
2. Don’t make your lists overwhelming
I understand the urge to fill up our lists with all the tasks that are swarming our minds, but I would discourage you from doing so. It’s not the lists that overwhelm us, it’s what and how much we put on it. Ever heard about not overfilling your plate, this is exactly that.
What I suggest is, writing down everything that’s on your mind. It could be a month’s worth of work, or work that could be completed in a day; just do a brain dump on a paper or your to-do app of choice. I use Things 3 on my Mac, iPad and, iPhone. It’s one of the best to-do apps I have ever used and syncs my tasks across all devices.
Check out my review of Things 3.
After doing that, take things out from it to do each day, and do not look at the main list you made again while going about your day. This will free up your mind from the plethora of tasks that need to be done and will let you focus on what you can do now. There’s no point stressing over the bulk and doing nothing to make a dent in it.
3. Tackle the biggest mountain first
It can be tempting to complete the smaller tasks, and it feels good to strike off things on your list. But, in a way, it is your way of putting off the difficult task. Once you have completed all the easy tasks and only the tough one remains, you start feeling down. The high of striking off things from the list is gone. You feel like you have accomplished enough, completed almost all the tasks on your list, and as a result, you slow down.
Most of the times, the tough things are the important ones. Instead of putting them off, you need to tackle them first. Climb the biggest mountain first, then the others are a walk in the park.
4. Combine easy and difficult tasks
Just because it is a good idea to complete the tough task first, doesn’t mean your list should be full of them. Make a to-do list in such a way that it leaves you some breathing space. Do not fill your days with all the difficult tasks that you can think of, it will become real hectic real soon, and you don’t want that.
Sprinkle easy, if possible fun, tasks in your list and also shorter tasks that can be completed in 5-10 minutes tops This makes sure that you don’t fry your brain trying to do the impossible. It is not possible to do a week’s worth of work in a day. While getting all the big projects out of the way can feel like a good idea, but it is, in fact, a bad one.
5. Prioritize your tasks
It is really important to know what tasks need to be done when. You can use any indicators that make the most sense to you. I divide them into high-priority, priority, low-priority. You can also call them must-do, should-do, would-like-to-do. Give them a number, or assign a letter.
A is high-priority,
B is priority,
C is low-priority,
then write down the letters next to the tasks; now you know which ones to do first. This also helps isolate the tasks to further organize your tasks in a workable fashion.
One thing to keep in mind is to not add more than 2-3 tasks in the high-priority section. Because there is only so much stress we can handle in a day, if you add most of your tasks in that section then you are most probably setting yourself up for failure.
6. Assign blocks of time to tasks
Knowing how much time you require to complete a task can come in handy when making a list. You should assign blocks of your day to a specific kind of task. Suppose you reply to emails faster in the afternoon and prepare reports in lesser time in the morning, then that is how you should plan your day.
Utilizing your strengths and dividing your day also gives you a chance to not focus on your entire list at once. You can forget the rest, and just focus on the task at hand, because you know that the other tasks have time allocated specifically for them.
Parkinson’s law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Setting too much time for a task, or too little time can be a cause for failure in completing your list. Allocating more time than needed will make you do your work at a leisurely pace, not leaving enough time for other tasks. Setting less time will make your rush, which can then compromise the quality of your work.
7. Eliminate distractions
FOMO or “Fear of missing out” is one of the things that has been a widespread problem that has come with the excessive use of social media. Nobody wants to miss anything, the result of which is constant pings on your mobile phone.
When you work, it is important to eliminate any kind of distraction that you might face. Distractions take you much longer to do a task, and the constant diversion of attention doesn’t help either.
Close unnecessary tabs, make it a rule to not use your phone in the block that you are working in, I am not telling you to abandon your phone for the whole day, but if you follow any sort of timeboxing then it is easier to put down your phone for a short period of time. Avoid working with the TV on in the background, do not work with constant flowing conversation, and focus only on the work at hand.
For me, I keep my phone in another room while doing my Pomodoros and only check it during the breaks. You can also use apps like Brain.fm and Noizio to focus better. They basically play ambient sounds that help you concentrate and focus better.
8. Insert various breaks throughout your work day
Many people think taking breaks is a waste of time, when time and again it has been proven that taking breaks is actually beneficial and helps you get more work done than if you would have worked continuously.
For time management, many organizations use timeboxing (mainly used for software development) for project management as well as personal time management. How it works is, you divide your schedules into a number of set time periods. Each allocated fixed period has its own attributes: plans, deliverables, deadlines, etc. A more workable form for everyone based on this principle is the Pomodoro technique.
Pomodoro technique is one of the most used techniques. It is a time management technique that uses a timer to break down your work into intervals of 25 minutes each and these blocks are punctuated with 5-minute breaks. This technique is so widely used that you will get a ton of apps and websites with a timer to help you with it.
9. Start fresh every day
There will be days when you won’t complete all the tasks on your list. I would suggest throwing away that list and start a new one every day. When you just add on to the existing list, the next day when you start, you start with a feeling of not having completed the tasks the day before. “If only” can plague your mind: if only I had done the work yesterday, if only I worked faster, and so on. This is not a healthy attitude to begin your day with.
Toss the list and start a new one with the remaining tasks and new tasks, it makes you feel like you have a new set of tasks. Whatever makes you feel positive about your workflow is what you are going to apply.
I have always considered making a good plan to be half-battle won. To-do lists are your daily plans. If you prepare them smartly, and then apply them to the T, you will realize that getting work done is easier than it always seemed.
You have to always consider your strengths, your weaknesses, your schedule, the probability of last-minute tasks, the average time to get a job done, any kind of raw data that can help you get into the habit of making an almost foolproof plan. Follow these steps, and you will get into the habit of making a to-do list that works for you, and then as you go on, you can keep tweaking it to suit your needs.
Ways to set up a Home Office
Day 1: ‘I am feeling lethargic today, maybe I’ll take rest for a while and resume after a few hours’
Day 2: ‘Don’t feel like working today’
Day 3: ‘Work from home is not productive at all! It was better when we could function in office’
Have you been experiencing this for the last few months?
Work from home can get boring and unproductive real quick and with changing times, this could be something companies resort to permanently.
So what’s the solution to not lose your work drive and keep working to your contentment?
Why not change your home workspace into a professional setting that gives you somewhat similar vibes as your in-office environment!
Well, read on!
To transform a small part of your house can be tedious but if the thought of strategically, can complement it well enough.
First things first – visualize how office spaces are built, most importantly the area where you used to sit in for hours and hours.
Got an idea? Now all you have to do is structure that into a smaller carpet area.
Decide on a location thereafter – where in the house do you want to set up your office. Make sure to be very particular when considering this because this has a major role in determining work focus and concentration. A corner, an entire room or just dividing the room into workspace and home is all to you and your comfort.
Usually, it is recommended to be in a remote area (like away from the kitchen) so to block any unnecessary noise.
Another thing to be cautious about is the amount of light that your chosen location has. With no proper lighting, the strain will increase and you might find it difficult to keep going.
What do companies do after building the space?
They settle on what furniture and equipment will be required to commence the activity.
Similarly, select your desk and chair wisely. You will want to need a chair that isn’t too hard nor is it too soft.
Too hard could make your back hurt and too soft can cause you to sit in a wrong position that’ll ultimately result in a backache. Ideally, a rolling chair is recommended because it’ll give you movement and comfort at the same time.
Coming to the size of your desk, it depends on if you want a longer one or a short desk would suffice. However, make sure that the workplace doesn’t look and feel too clustered because then your efficiency is what can be affected. Along with the size of the desk, it’s shaping also is equally significant. L-shaped, T-shaped or U-shaped or any other shape, that will look chic and be the perfect match to your location – judge appropriately.
While you are at it, keep in mind to place your desk in front of some view that will soothe your eyes. A pleasant scenery to look at acts as a relaxing tool for the mind and the eyes, giving you the refreshment you need during the job hours.
Have you noticed how your in-office cabin looked hassle-free and clean? That’s what exactly you want in your home office too, trust me. Wires tangled and plug loosely attached will definitely distract you and come in the way of smooth operation. So to avoid this, make sure you’ve proper connection and sockets for keeping your wires and plugs out of the way.
Moving continuously to fetch files and other important things can turn out to be time-wasting. To not lose out on productivity, you could have cabinets and drawers made around your desk or within the same area as is your workspace.
The office is not about just desk-work. There are visits and meetings and conferences too. Therefore, having an area dedicated to client meetings is necessary. Though if you feel that this is something that can be done without, it’s entirely your call.
Sitting in one place for about 8-9 hours every day can be monotonous. What can be worse is when the same to you sit in is bland and plain – just like a hospital ward. I am sure you don’t like that and certainly wouldn’t want your workplace to emulate the same!
Hence, decorate and paint!
Make your room look green to calm you or fill it with colors to keep you fresh, bright, and awake the entire day. If you didn’t know, colors very much influence your emotions.
Like I had mentioned before, changing interiors can be tedious but if strategically done, it can complement your home well enough. Considering that, you could design and decorate your home office according to your house and it’s color combinations. This will not only not erupt your interior but also make you feel safe and congenial making it easier for you to work.
In the end, whatever you read or see, go by what you feel is right and appropriate for your house and your surroundings. Do not place anything that isn’t required or is unnecessary and just keeps adding up your budget.
In an attempt to make your home office beautiful and classy, remember to not walk off the money line. Setting a workplace at home can be expensive but if done well within the monetary limit, you are sure to get elegant and reasonable decor.
Are you still reading?
Go! It’s time you start planning because you never know when offices might open up and you may be required to step out of your lazy workdays.
The Pressure of this Epidemic: Should we take it Slow or Get your Productivity Game on
The race has begun, the race of life doesn’t stop even during quarantine or lockdown. It still continues when an epidemic is on the loose. Students all across were expected to continue working, office resumed productivity, and homemakers had it worse as their routine doubled.
Opening social media, flooded with images, videos and posts of people baking, drawing, learning a new instrument, learning new wilderness survival skills and working out, seems to be filled with energy. You look and you browse and you want to be filled with those emotions as those celebrities, friends, or influencers who seem to have figured a way to keep pushing through this pandemic. You imagine and daydream about a banana bread recipe you should try or that hype around the Dalgona coffee. You feel a sense of distance and anxiety, a fear of missing out. So you try, you try to push yourself, install tik-tok, and practice a common dance routine, decide to post it to establish that you are doing something too, you aren’t just lying around. There is this common unquestioned idea that when you are free and have time on your hand you should continue working, never waste time by just sitting down, or watching a show relaxing. This notion has been instilled and we as individuals are conditioned to feel that if you aren’t doing anything in your free time you are wasting time, not getting ahead in the horse race of this world. But, in lockdown and the current situation is tiring to comprehend. A state of panic and anxiety of the future, the fear of the virus and the death tools, fear of the contention of the world around. In all this, you feel obligated to be motivated and productive. To show that you have some value attributed to yourself even during a lockdown.
Productivity is often measured by documenting and showcases it to other people. In this day and age where social media has taken over our lives, where everyone posts their lives online to show what they are up to. It helps take your mind off things, keeps you engaged. Not everyone needs to cope with the pandemic the same way, the hustle has been romanticized by capitalist society. Where one has to keep on their toes. So many of us have received links, or advertisements to push us into starting something new. Not many people talk about how it is okay to just not do anything and take it slow. Not realizing that the conventional definition of being busy doesn’t necessarily have to be productive in nature. Our time has become monetized, every passing minute one has to do something,
When one is taking it slow and not pushing themselves into burning out they too are being productive. This can be said because they are introspective and reflecting upon themselves. Working towards rebuilding by taking it slow, relaxing as the times are tough. Lockdowns make one feel trapped as you have no social contact. One starts to feel the need for validation and added value to themselves. This is obtained by documenting and showing their productivity on social media. The competition to show how busy you are and how you have coped with this pandemic, but in reality, many are struggling. There has been an increase in problems like insomnia, backaches, headaches, feeling nauseated, and eventually leading to burnout. With the increasing fear and uncertainty about our future, there needs to be a period to pause and retrospect. It is completely acceptable to take your time off, as that too is a form of productivity for yourself. The idea that physical work attributes to your productivity levels is a notion that makes one forget about themselves. Taking care of yourself and taking the time off thinking and just take it one day at a time. The pandemic has led to work from home bases for both students and working individuals. Hence with the effect of the pandemic and the working situation, this pressure to be productive is an added factor for them to feel demotivated and isolated further. Apart from that parents and homemakers, have been burning out and need a means to just relax and have time off for themselves away from societal pressure.
Social media is a great tool to feel connected to this pandemic, but with this, it also brings in the pressure of being at the same level as everyone. One starts to feel “if they can do it so can I”. The energy and exertion both mentally and physically are draining, the constant juggle, and trying to draw a line with your various social groups sitting from home. The pandemic adds extra responsibility, in terms of taking care of your family, friends neighbors thinking about your work, and how to run your home. That is why with these added pressures you can decide for yourself what works best for you, being productive by following daily trends help you relax and cope with the situation then that is great. On the contrary, if you feel drained and are feeling extinguished from the pressure, then it is best to take it slow, relax as thinking, and working on yourself is a form of work too.
How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important
Prioritization is the key to achieving your goals. It helps you focus on what is important. While talking about how to prioritize your tasks to help you achieve all your goals, I briefly touched what you should do if everything seems like a priority –
If you find yourself with more than three top priorities, then that’s a problem. It means you haven’t figured out what tasks are more important. Figure out which ones can wait until later. If all of the tasks are of same nature making them equally important, then that means you need to cut out some tasks, you might have taken on more than you can handle.
Having a laser-like focus on only a handful of things is essential here so that you can have only the tasks that matter the most on your list.
Most of us struggle with this. Prioritizing is not easy if you don’t know how to differentiate actual priority from the task that seems like one. Even if everything on your plate is supposed to be equally important, you will still need to find a way to break down which ones you should be spending your time on.
How we slice up our time and what we dedicate our time to often dictates what direction our life is going to take. The first question one has to get past is whether or not everything really is of equal importance – when you start questioning is when you will start looking for ways to deal with the problem the question possesses.
Dealing with Conflicting Priorities
When you are trying to deal with your personal and professional life at the same time, the tasks together can become more daunting. We face multiple demands on our time every day because of that.
In the professional scene, often the tasks that are urgent override the schedule, resulting in loss of control and inattention to priority tasks. So how should priorities be determined?
To begin with, ask questions.
Let’s take an example. Suppose you are in your office. You have a project that needs to be done today. A colleague comes by and asks you to help with something that is also urgent and needs to be done by the afternoon. Now, you didn’t say “no” because that might be rude. You have an urgent task that is not your priority and you have your own project that is a priority but not as urgent as this other task.
Ask questions to yourself –
- Is taking this additional work going to affect your workflow?
- Do you want to do this?
- Is this stressing you out or causing you anxiety?
- Are you stretching yourself too thin trying to be helpful?
- Can this work be done by someone else?
If the answer to even of these questions is “Yes” then we move on to the next part, that is, learning to drop the task because it is not a priority.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good’.”
What Do You Do? The Art of Saying “No”
Everyone considers their project to be the most important and wants information or action immediately, they won’t always be considerate of your work. All most people care about is getting their work done. If you have trouble saying “no” chances are that your work will keep suffering. How to deal with this?
Even though you feel bad about not being able to help your colleague, it is okay. You have to put your work first. Of course, special circumstances do demand changing your priorities but most often than not saying “no” will immediately put the dilemma to rest.
If multiple people are involved in your project, find out where your piece fits into the overall project. Taking charge of your space and your time will allow you to focus on what is important, meet deadlines and minimize job and personal stress, this starts with learning to say “no.”
Why Writing Down Your Tasks Help
We have a scientific term to explain why writing down goals helps. It is called the generation effect. What it basically means is that you remember information more when you have generated it with your own mind than when you have read it. There’s no one specific answer to why it happens but a lot of studies have been conducted on it, and this phenomenon is used in quite a few things.
You must have heard people say “Goals that are not written down are just wishes.” You can dream or talk about it all you want, but until you write it down on a piece of paper, it remains a half-hearted attempt – nothing more than a wish.
Another thing and an important one at that, is encoding. Our memory has the ability to encode, store, and recall information. By writing your goals down, you are storing it externally by putting it on paper. Now, by visiting it again and again, we are encoding it into our brains. There are few intensively used types of encoding. Two types are at work here, Visual encoding and Elaborative encoding. I have discussed all of this in detail when I talked about why writing down goals can help you achieve them faster.
Basically how it works is that we write something and that can be visual encoding, looking at that, again and again, evokes the feelings associated with that task, the reason of it, if you may. That is elaborative encoding, this is how priority kicks in. The elaborative part helps us associate reasons behind the task and the consequences associated with it, and in turn, its correlation with our ultimate goals.
This eventually helps us only pick out priority labeled tasks to make us more productive and efficient.
Spending Your Time Right
Most people generally panic when they have to tackle their tasks by priority because everything feels important. When everything looks like a priority, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It is difficult to skillfully juggle multiple priorities and competing responsibilities at the same time. There are times when you have to manage the workload at the office as well as home.
What we often fail to keep in mind when handling multiple activities is to prioritize them according to their importance. Many people just try to handle various activities as per their instinct and end up never doing the important things. Later, they might blame it on ‘not having enough time’, which obviously is untrue. You have enough time, you just have to start spending it right.
If you don’t know what your priority is, you will never have enough time to get your work done. As Laura Vanderkam says, “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.”
Prioritizing your to-do list is very simple if you learn to differentiate between your actual priority and what feels like a priority. Learning to say “no” to whatever is hindering your chances of success is the next big thing. If you learn these two things, you are pretty much sorted. All there is left to do is employ strategies to actually get the work done.
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