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9 Sure-Fire Ways to Tackle Your To-Do Lists Every Day

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tackle to-do list

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

tackle to-do list

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

tackle to-do list

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.

Suppose,

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.

tackle to-do list

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.





Goals

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

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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

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

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’.”

-Stephen Covey

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? 

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

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. 

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

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

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

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.”

Final Thoughts

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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Goals

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

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How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

A few days ago I discussed why prioritizing your tasks was a much-needed aspect when it came to achieving success. I have always believed that knowing what is important to you will help you focus your energy in the right things.

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

-Russian Proverb

Once you have realized that not every task is equally important and they can be put off, for the time being, you can get to schedule only the tasks that are on your priority list. The problem arises when you cannot determine which task is more important.

One of the questions that help you make sense of prioritization is, “Will this task take me closer to my goal?” The most important tasks are the ones that move you closer to achieving your long term goals.

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

Prioritization helps you have a plan that will push you to focus your time and energy on the right things. It will also help you ensure that your work is done, deadlines are met, and stress is minimized.

Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed by a situation or the number of things that need to be done, that’s when your priorities need to be reordered so that you can get things done that bring you closer to your actual goal. At the end of the day, everything boils down to your ultimate goal.  

Nobody’s life is ever all balanced – doesn’t matter if it seems like that to you – everyone has a different set of problems. It’s a conscious decision to choose your priorities every day so that you can keep making progress each day.

The Magic of To-Do Lists

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

“Schedule your priorities.”

-Stephen Covey

To-do lists are really helpful in putting the things that need to be done into perspective. Take the list further by adding additional attributes. You can prioritize tasks in the list itself. If you use an app or digital file, it becomes easier. If you use the old pen-paper method, then you can either rewrite the list after prioritizing the tasks or you can use highlighters or page-markers. Here’s how you can prioritize your tasks.

  • Make a list of all the tasks that you need to do.
  • For bigger tasks, identify individual tasks that will help you complete the project. The breaking of big tasks should be small enough to be completed in a few days or a few hours. 
  • Identify due dates – long-range, midrange, due next month or next week.

Now that you have the list complete. You will have everything laid out in front of you. This will help you make an informed decision without forgetting any tasks. With brain dump out of the way, you can focus on prioritizing the tasks.

  • Assign priorities to each task, from most urgent to not very important – use A, B, C, etc., to designate levels of importance. 
  • After you have decided the priority of your tasks, rank each task within the level using a secondary designation, such as A-1, A-2, A-3 – this can be used for sub-tasks.

You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, most people often spend their time and energy on what is urgent than what is important. This might get you from one point to another in the short-term but in long-term it will get you nowhere. The next step is that you must do what’s important first which is called priority.

Over time, I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. When we understand this, it becomes easier to understand what actually matters and what you are doing just because. 

There are many tools provided online to make planning even more detailed yet easier. Tasks can be flagged with contact details of people involved and reminders of upcoming events, due dates, and meetings. You can also make to-do lists, assign due dates, set reminders, schedule meetings, etc.

“Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.”

-Laura Vanderkam

Start and end your day with your “to-do” list – check off what you finished and review the remaining tasks at night and in the morning go through the list once to see what all you need to do. Do not constantly reprioritize the list, as it can quickly become an excuse for procrastination and will leave you confused as to what you are supposed to do.

What if Every Task Seems Like a Priority?

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

“When you have too many top priorities, you effectively have no top priorities.”

-Stephen Covey

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.

Final Thoughts

“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’.”

-Stephen Covey

To achieve success, to complete your goal, to chase your dream with your all – it is really important to learn how to prioritize. There will always be a plethora of things you want to do or you feel like you need to do, but they will never all be at the same level priority wise. 

You need to learn to teach yourself to decide on what is important and stick to doing that – this is the key to finishing things that are high on your list.

Prioritizing allows you to identify the most important tasks at any moment and dedicate the limited time and resources you have accordingly.

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Habits

Why You Should Prepare Your To-Do Lists the Night Before

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Why You Should Prepare Your To-Do Lists the Night Before

To be on top of everything, having a set morning routine and night routine that you follow religiously is very important. A routine makes sure that you do all the necessary tasks to ensure that your day running smoothly. The habit of making to-do lists and following it is one of the beneficial habits you can cultivate in order to get all your work done without being overwhelmed.

Many people wonder if making lists at the end of the day is better than making a list in the morning or vice versa. While in the morning, you might be fresh with a fresh outlook toward the day, chances are that making a list in the morning isn’t the best way to ensure productivity. Making a to-do list isn’t enough, knowing how to tackle it needs some planning.

When you wake up and get through your morning routine, it can be difficult to sit down to plan the day. You want the morning to be light and filled with little tasks that are more about self-care than business. The serenity of the morning is the perfect time to be looking after yourself. If someday you happen to wake up late, all your planning will go askew if you leave making your task list to morning.

Why You Should Prepare Your To-Do Lists the Night Before

At the end of the day, you know what tasks you have managed to complete, and what areas of work needs your attention next. This makes it easier to create a to-do list for the next day because you will be making a list on the data from the day. While you can do the same in the morning, the urgencies of certain tasks aren’t going to be that fresh in your mind. 

You also have the opportunity to sleep on your list and then revise it in the morning with tasks that would need more attention. Before bed is the best time to create a game plan for the next day. It’s like getting a head start to your day because you already made a plan the day before. 

When you make a list at night, you already know what you need to focus on first the next day. What’s your MIT (most important task) and what work you can fit in, considering your schedule. You don’t have to wake up to the task of planning and can use your sharpness in the hours of the morning to actually getting work done. 

“Setlists are tough because you come up with this structure of how the songs are going to go from one to the next, but at the same time, you have to be spontaneous and take requests and change the setlist at the drop of a hat.”

-Billie Joe Armstrong

You can put indicators to tasks that are priorities, urgent, or can be put-off, and then in the morning, you can prioritize them with more vigilance. This is something that will help you go about your day as soon as you wake up because you will have a direction to follow. This particularly helps if you have too much on your plate and you are overwhelmed by the amount of tasks that need to be done and feel clueless. With a to-do list prepared, you will wake up with a mission and that will help you feel motivated.
While I am an advocate for waking up early, I know not everyone can afford to. Many of us work lates or have some weird working hours because of international businesses or just because of personal preference. 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.

Why You Should Prepare Your To-Do Lists the Night Before

For me, I make a list of my three MITs (Most Important Tasks). I always advise 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. Once you achieve the most important and difficult tasks, you already have a sense of accomplishment and achievement that will help you get to other not so important tasks throughout the day without worrying constantly.

Having the most important task out of the way gives you an opportunity to be actually present in your workday and work for other things without the constant pressure of this looming task that you will have to get to eventually. You get to give your 100% to everything you do because you are sorted by working on tasks based on your priority.

“I made a huge to-do list for today. I just can’t figure out who’s going to do it.”

-Anonymous

That being said, while lists can be a huge help in giving you direction, in the end, you are the one who has to follow them to get the work done so don’t make your lists overwhelming. I understand the urge to fill up our lists with all the tasks that are swarming our minds, I used to do that. I made mile-long lists but never could complete it in the day and that discouraged me.

Then I learned the importance of being smart and setting realistic goals. I started making a master list in which I jotted down every task that entered my mind and then segregated them daily. I focused only on the tasks that were on my today list. Having put the other tasks on another list made me not worry about them and I could focus on my daily tasks better. 

“People are remarkably bad at remembering long lists of goals. I learned this at a professional level when trying to get my high-performance coaching clients to stay on track; the longer their lists of to-dos and goals, the more overwhelmed and off-track they got. Clarity comes with simplicity.”

-Brendon Burchard

A brain dump is essential to keep your brain from worrying about every little thing. So, make a main overall list and then your daily to-do list can be a subset of it. Every day when you make your lists in the evening or before going to bed, you can go through your main list and take that into consideration against what you achieved today. Based on both things, you can make a much more efficient list. This will help you work little by little to achieve your long term goals as well.

“Mostly I make lists for projects. This can be daunting. Breaking something big into its constituent parts will help you organize your thoughts, but it can also force you to confront the depth of your ignorance and the hugeness of the task. That’s OK. The project may be the lion, but the list is your whip.”

-Adam Savage

After doing a brain dump of all your ideas and worries, 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 – making sure you give your best in whatever you are doing. There’s no point stressing over the bulk and doing nothing to make a dent in it.

You have to 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.

If the list is overwhelming you and discouraging you, then you have to understand that it’s not the lists that overwhelm us, it’s what and how much we put on them. Ever heard about not overfilling your plate, this is exactly it.

Why You Should Prepare Your To-Do Lists the Night Before

There will be days when you won’t complete all the tasks on your list – no matter how hard you try, some days are just not helpful. The unfinished tasks will bother you – if they don’t, then you can use the same list, but chances are that they will. I suggest throwing away that list and start a new one every day. 

For most people, when they just add on to the existing list, they start the next day already feeling like having failed because they have tasks from yesterday to go through. No matter how much you do in the day, you will keep feeling unaccomplished because your mind will go in an ‘if only’ mindset where you will keep wondering that if you had finished those tasks yesterday then you could have done more work in the time it took you to get to them today.

This is not a healthy attitude to begin your day with. So, start a new list. Put the tasks again on the list. Now, it is a new list with all the remaining and new tasks together. It will make you feel like you have a fresh list instead of the feeling of working on a backlog. Whatever makes you feel positive about your workflow is what you are going to apply eventually – it is a process of learning and growing.

Final Thoughts

Making a good plan is half-battle won, that is why it is important to be prepared. 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. Making a to-do list the night before gives you the opportunity to start your day feeling prepared and ready to deal with anything that comes your way.

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