Are you the type of person who spends more time making to-do lists than taking action on your tasks? Or, are you the type who has to-do lists spread all over and have a hard time keeping track of everything? No matter what your to-do list situation is, it’s safe to say it can use some routine maintenance.
Here are five simple steps you can take in the next 15 minutes to actually make your to-do list useful again.
Before you can make your to-do list useful, make sure to follow these simple rules:
- Your system must be easy to use – don’t make it over complicated
- Your system must be searchable – so you can find things quickly
- Your system must work for you – just because something works for some guru doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for you. Use a system that you’ll actually USE.
So let’s get started
1 – Pick ONE Task Manager
I know how tempting it is to try every new task manager or to-do app. Been there, done that. I actually call it the productivity app treadmill because it doesn’t get you anywhere.
I can’t count the number of different apps I’ve tried. But the number one way to simplify task management, is to stick with one task manager.
If you are using more than one task manager, then you’ll have ideas spread all over and you’ll waste precious brain space trying to remember where all your different tasks are located.
Instead, by using one task manager, everything is in one place when you need it.
As you know, Nozbe is the one task manager I use and recomend. It works as a central place to store projects for home, for my different jobs, and for client projects. Labels make it easy to keep all these different areas separate.
If Nozbe isn’t for you, most task managers out there have similar features to what I describe below. So like I said, this is a framework but find what works for you.
Any time a new task or idea comes to mind, simply add it to your inbox. You can always come back later and sort tasks into their specific project.
2- Break Big Projects into Next Actions
The only way to tackle a large project is to break it into steps.
Start with the single next action you can take to move the project forward. This is the number one piece of advice I got from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.
Think to yourself…what is the one action I can take right now to move this project forward.
- making a call,
- sending an email,
- writing a list?
Focus on Next Actions, or as Nozbe calls them Priorities.
Start each task with a verb or action word. Make it something you can actually DO.
Then, write a list of all the steps that follow next for that project.
You might not know every single step yet, and that’s okay.
Some steps will change along the way.
But by focusing on next actions, you’ll move your project forward and begin to see your progress.
3- Add All Relevant Information to the Task
When it comes time to work on your tasks, you don’t want to waste time finding all the documents, links, or relevant information to get it done.
Most task managers today have the ability to add files or notes to your tasks.
Next time you go to work on that task you’ll have everything you need to get started all in one place. Talk about saving time.
4 – Use Categories to Batch Similar Tasks
I’ve written before about how important batching tasks is to creating a streamlined personal productivity system.
To keep it short here:
Batching is completing the same types of tasks at the same time.
Not only does this save time, but it helps you complete tasks more efficiently because your brain is not having to switch between different types of tasks.
For more on the importance of using focus and the harmful effects of multitasking, check out Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.
5 – Use a “Most Important” Category
Are you afraid of looking at your to-do list because it’s just too overwhelming?
Sometimes looking at a list of 20+ items does more harm than good.
It’s hard to focus on only the most important tasks.
In the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey shares his method of putting the big rocks first. If you’re not familiar with this, check out the video in this post.
Every morning I open Nozbe and choose my big rocks (the 3-5 most important tasks) for the day. Then using a filter I select the “Most Important” category.
Here’s the before and after:
I only see my Most Important tasks until I complete them all.
Overall, it’s important to “put first things first” and remember that it is systems that keep you productive, and not just apps.