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

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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.





Productivity

7 Smart Tips to Multitask and Actually Get Work Done

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Multitasking has its fair share of merits and demerits. Some people swear by it, some people tell you to avoid it at all costs. What I believe in is that everything works differently for different people. You need to find out what works the best for you and then go about doing your thing.

If you believe multitasking can help you get more done, by all means, do it. With the development of good habits and taking on a strategic approach, you can approach all that you want to. Just keep these things in mind to make your multitasking more effective. Multitasking is the most effective when it doesn’t hurt your productivity overall.

1. Limit the projects you take on

It can seem like an exciting prospect to work on a lot of projects at the same time, but productivity wise it is never a good idea. Because projects are just not projects, they have many tasks and subtasks, various deadlines, research work, and testing. So, when you actually start working, it can actually be detrimental to get results because when you focus on a lot of things, you are not exactly working on any one thing properly.

2. Prioritize your tasks

multitasking effectively

You might feel like all the things you are doing are important, but when you really consider all the things on your list, you will realize they are not. Even if you already multitask and get a lot done, you have to understand that some things are better done with full focus rather than juggling them with other tasks.

The first thing you need to do is to write down all the tasks that you need to get done. Then take a look at each question and ask yourself questions that will help you understand which task should be done right away.

  • Deadline – If the task has a deadline that is closer than the other tasks you have, then it needs immediate attention.
  • Who are you working for? Is the task for a client or for yourself. If it is for a client, then it holds priority because you get paid.
  • Hinderance – If not completing the task right away won’t halt other tasks then you can put it off in preference of other tasks.
  • Time – How much time does the time require? Will it be better to do it with total focus or will it be okay to do in chunks with other tasks?

These are some questions that will help you determine what tasks you should do first, and what tasks you can pair with each other without harming your productivity. Mark your high priority tasks in your to-do lists to get the most out of them.

3. Use different calendars

Making a calendar is as important as making a to-do list. It can help make to-do lists and vice versa. There are deadlines and events and product releases, and whatever you have marked on your calendar, so you make your daily task lists based on that.

When you are multitasking, you need to make another calendar because simply writing down a list won’t help you remember what task you are supposed to do when. Make this calendar to represent the tasks you do. Group similar tasks, use blocks of times to do similar tasks daily. Find out what task you can do the best at what time of the day and always assign those kinds of tasks to that specific block of time on your calendar.

4. Use the parts of your brain correctly

You know how you can talk on the phone while eating, and still get both done at the same time without much problem. But you won’t be able to talk on the phone as well as hold a conversation with people you are eating with. This is because eating needs motor function and conversing on the phone needs the language center but talking on the phone and conversing with people around you will need the same language center part of your brain.

One thing that you need to remember is that pairing tasks to be done together is also about the science of how our brain works. Different parts of our brains are used for different things. You need to understand that you cannot do two tasks at a time that require the same part of your brain.

5. Get rid of distractions

It is anyway difficult to focus on your tasks when there are distractions around. It becomes even more difficult when you want to focus on more than one thing. I cannot stress enough about focusing just on the task at hand.

Phones are the biggest distraction, either turn the data off so that you don’t get notifications or keep your phone out of your reach or sight so that you get up only for important phone calls. If you work in an office, then chatty colleagues and the various other sounds can be huge distractions too. You can start putting on noise-canceling headphones so that no one disturbs you. You don’t need to listen to anything, just use it as the universal symbol of “Don’t talk to me” that it is. You can also play ambient sounds like I do to focus better. Brain.fm and Noizio are good options.

6. Use productivity techniques and tools

I have talked about using the Pomodoro Technique and Big Rocks so many times that I think I will have to make a post dedicated to it soon. But, there are so many techniques you can use to work in bursts and motivate yourself to actually get work done.

Most techniques place importance on breaks as well. When you are working non-stop, you and your work are both going to suffer. It helps no one. Use productivity techniques to keep you on your toes and remind you to take breaks as well.

7. Shift tactics to work more

Talking about taking breaks, you don’t only need to take breaks from working, you also need to take a break from multitasking. If you have been successfully multitasking for the better part of the day, there is a high chance that your mind will get tired. If you still work through that, then that is when you face mental burnout.

You need to switch to focusing on doing single tasks if you start feeling overwhelmed. This will give your brain some space to breathe and get ready for another round of multitasking fun.

Not everyone can naturally multitask, and it doesn’t work for everyone either. Strategizing and planning can help you learn the rope of multitasking and then it will become easier for you to implement it in your daily routine.

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7 Ways You Can Improve Your Concentration

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Unlike the traditional belief, humans are not born with an innate ability to focus and concentrate. It is a skill that most of the successful people learn and hone over time. Some people still hold the dogma that if their brain is slow or they can’t get things done quickly then they are doomed and will remain the same for their remaining life.

Research has proven that it is possible to improve your concentration no matter how worse the situation may seem like. You can begin today with a few tried and tested ways to improve your concentration. These methods or concepts may seem very cliched, but if implemented correctly, they can significantly change your life.

Check out these 7 ways to improve your concentration that can help you become a focused person.

1. Eliminate all distractions

Sometimes our attention gets diverted from the task at hand to something else and, as a result, we don’t perform optimally. By eliminating things that can distract you, you can finish your desired task well within the deadline and without any unexpected stoppages. External distractions like text messages, phone calls, social media notifications, etc. can casually shift your attention from your work to things that don’t matter that much.  

People who work in distraction-free environments are more productive and less likely to commit errors. For instance, it’s easy to read a book when you are sitting by a relaxing beach where the only sound you hear is of crashing waves and chirping birds; most people will find this scenario quite relaxing and will get more reading done than if they were in a crowded coffee shop.

You’ll be surprised to learn that using Facebook can make you 55 percent more likely to be stressed. The Happiness Researcher Institute, Denmark took 1,095 people who used Facebook regularly in their daily lives and split them into two groups. One group was allowed to use Facebook as they normally would and the other group was banned from using it for a week.

They later concluded that the people in the second group who abstained from Facebook were more satisfied and happy in their social life. In conclusion, instead of completely avoiding social media you can regulate its usage so that it doesn’t create unnecessary distractions in your life.

2. Strive for an emotionally balanced life

improve your concentration

Lack of concentration is a symptom of an emotionally turbulent mind. If the mind is not calm and composed, it is going to let itself wander in places it should not. A lot of people think they can achieve the highest level of focus and concentration just by practicing a certain type of meditation or relaxation technique. But that is farthest from the truth. Meditation only helps to improve your concentration when you attain a decent level of emotional maturity.

One quick way to gain emotional stability is to follow a morning routine which consists of positive affirmations, exercise, reading, and journaling. These practices will help you be more in touch with your life situation so you can deal with them in a better way and also, in the process, improve your concentration. However, it should be noted that no one stays emotionally stable all the time, even an emotionally healthy person needs solace in times of distress.

In a study done by Columbia University, researchers found out that surgeons who are under stress in their personal lives are more likely to commit mistakes on a patient in the operating room. This shows how important it is to be emotionally stable and have good concentration.

3. Get enough sleep and exercise

Good sleep and physical exercise are very essential factors you need to consider when you are trying to improve your concentration. Generally, people who don’t sleep for a minimum of seven-eight hours each night feel tired quickly and are likely to crash out by the afternoon. Consequently, regular physical activity is also needed to operate at optimal mental capacity.    

Reports suggest that 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder. This data published by the American Sleep Association also identified insomnia to be the most common sleep disorder; nearly 30 percent of people in the United States suffer from insomnia. With these many people having difficulties with their sleep, getting a good night’s sleep becomes very important to improve your concentration levels.   

4. Create a to-do list

A to-do list or checklist is a time management technique used by many successful people all over the world. The idea is to go through every task that needs to be done in the following day and write them down in a list. This could be done using a mobile application or a post-it sticky note. I use Things 3 as my preferred to-do app.

Creating a list takes our attention from what needs to be done in the future to the task at hand; as we already know how the day is going to go. Hence, it can improve your concentration too. One needs to keep in mind that lists only work when we keep them specific and precise. Likewise, it helps to write down supplementary side-notes along with the bullet points on the to-do list.   

5. Reward yourself for the hard work

Working on long-term projects with no immediate gratification can be boring and dull. Over time it can make you lose your concentration and get distracted. Furthermore, it’s very easy not to see this happening when you are just starting a project; the idea of a new project or a venture can be fun and exciting in the beginning phases. But most people experience a dip in their performance as things move further and going gets harder.

By rewarding yourself for your hard work, you get a quick jolt of energy which can help improve your concentration naturally. Some of the ways to reward yourself are by resting, having your favorite food, sweets, taking a day off, etc.  

Recent research by Cornell University suggests that rewarding an employee at the beginning of a project yields better focus, concentration, and engagement from them. The study also concluded that instead of waiting till the end it’s in our best interest to pay ourselves first.

6. Environment matters

improve your concentration

Changing the environment is probably the easiest way you can improve your concentration. Sometimes the coziest places can become detrimental to your productivity; the more comfortable the workplace the faster you are likely to lose focus. So, it’s essential to choose a workplace where there are positive people around who have the same ambitions and long term goals as you have.  

Your residential area also becomes a factor when you want to improve your concentration and raise your standard of living altogether. Living in a noisy and busy area can put you in a funk and lower your level of concentration when you try to accomplish anything.

One of the best places to work is a less crowded coffee shop or cafe. It helps to spend time in a place that has comfortable seating and people around. Coffee shops are becoming very popular among freelancers and digital nomads since most of them have wifi connectivity.

7. Use the Pomodoro Technique

improve your concentration

Often times it is difficult to get started on a project or an assignment as we tend to think about the amount of time we have to spend working on it. In addition, the mere thought of working tirelessly for hours can be exhausting for some people as it is difficult to concentrate for so long.

There are numerous time management techniques available to deal with this problem but the one called “Pomodoro Technique” is very popular among people with mental focus issues.   

This technique has can help improve your concentration because you only have to commit to work for 25 minutes initially. For instance, work on one task for 25 minutes then rest for the next 5 minutes and repeat this cycle for 3 cycles ending the entire work session with a longer break. This way of working gets people in the flow and they end up working for two to three sessions in one go.  

To conclude, these 7 ways to improve your concentration are hand-picked and tried and tested by several successful people. Be it entrepreneurs, politicians, or leading artists, everyone has their own ways to get in the zone and unleash their creative genius. It is also recommended to keep track of your progress when you are trying to implement a change in your life; journaling is a great way to measure your progress.

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Productivity

21 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Planner

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Getting the most out of your planner

Planners are a great tool for increasing productivity. They take to-do lists a step ahead and giveyou a much better way to plan out for more than just the day. Keeping all the things in your mind can get overwhelming at times, for someone who runs and manages a lot of things together, this can be a huge problem. Using a planner gives you the opportunity to transfer everything from your brain to a physical manifestation of your exact thoughts and visions.

Once you put it all down on paper, your mind is free of the tasks that need to be done, and now you can focus on how to actually do them. Now, you have to plan, build a strategy, and get to work.

Use your planner to effectively plan every step you take towards achieving your goal. It is important to be productive than it is to be busy, which is why a planner can be one of the most important tools in your arsenal.

Now, like everything, the effectiveness of a planner depends on how we use it. It is not this magical thing that, once written on, will make all your goals, dreams, and wishes come true. You have to work for it, use your planner to aid you in your quest for success.

Here are some of the tips that I have learned that have worked for me and many others. Remember, the main thing is to find out what works for YOU because something that works for everyone doesn’t automatically mean it is going to work for you.

Using Your Planner

Getting the most out of your planner

1.Check your planner first thing in the morning to see what you need to do, and to add whatever new things come to your mind.

2. Keep your planner open while working so that you can add things as you go. If the planner is out of reach, chances are you won’t reach for it enough.

3. You do not have to stick to a specific method. You can change your ways as often as you like, it’s all about what works for you. Learn from yourself.

4. Don’t overfill the pages. It is okay to have white space, don’t give in to the feeling of filling every inch of available space on the planner.

5. There’s no need to use one planner for all the different areas you want to focus on. You can use different planners for different things: work, personal, school, plans.

6. Review your planner often. If you do a lot of things, a weekly review will help you sort through things. If you don’t clutter your daily tasks page with a ton of stuff, then a monthly review might suffice.

7. Save the last few pages as rough pages, or a brain dump zone. This is so that you can put things there that you still don’t know how to go about or what to do with. Instead of writing in another notebook or diary, keep it all together so that it is easy to refer to.

8. Go through your planner at night: to mark off things done, to make notes about things that need to be done, and also to prepare for the next day.

Organizing The Planner

Getting the most out of your planner

9. Pre-plan your weeks and then divide the tasks into work for each day. This gives you a chance to prioritize and have a clear goal as to how your week is going to look like.

10. Make a to-do list every day. Use methods that help you tackle your to-do lists.

11. Use sticky notes: if you have a big task written that requires tons of little things to be done, then add sticky notes to it, and peel them off as you complete the tasks. This way your planner remains clean, no clutter to overwhelm you.

12. You can also use checkboxes or fill-in circles to tick off or fill in as you complete the tasks, that is, if you want to keep your planner decluttered. I personally like to strike through the tasks, feels good.

13. Color code your tasks, use color pens, highlighters, page markers. This makes the planner easy on the eyes and also makes it easier to know what task is where, what needs to be done, and what is completed.

14. Use a ruler, no matter what lines you are drawing: checkboxes, lists, bullet journal layout. It looks so much cleaner and organized. I even strike through my tasks using a ruler, which is why it doesn’t look shabby.

15. If you run out of space on your weekly or daily spread, then add sticky notes for extra writing space.

16. Use habit trackers to, well, track your habits. Instead of writing something you do every day in the daily pages, dedicate a page for it, and mark as you go. This is also one of the pages that let you get as creative as you want to be.

17. Use tabs so that you can easily separate sections, and it is also convenient for you.

Choosing Your Planner

Getting the most out of your planner

18. Get a planner in the size that works best for you. Don’t get a big bulky thing if you have to carry it around, don’t get a small one if you do a ton of planning. Figure out what works best for you.

19. Don’t go for the most popular planners just because they work for others, see if they work for you.

20. Expensive doesn’t always mean good. If you don’t have money to spend then even a plain notebook will do. It should just resonate with you.

21. Different planners offer different things. Before buying any planner, check out the page layouts, the different sections offered, the aesthetic. Go for the one that speaks to you, not only with its functionality but also the feel.

Any tool that is meant to increase your productivity will only work if you use it the way it is supposed to be used. Just because something doesn’t work instantly doesn’t mean it never will. Using a planner is adopting a whole new habit, and you just don’t get into a habit in a day or two. Patience is the key in the beginning; then it boils down to perseverance.

Planners are versatile in the sense that they are meant to be customized in a unique individualistic way for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, you have a job, you run your own business, or you are a stay-at-home parent, what matters is that all of us have things to do, places to be, goals to achieve. That is where planners come in to make the process easier. It is your personal assistant in a way, except you are one here, without even feeling like you are doing the job.

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