To Do Lists, Managing Tasks, and Planning Skills

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In this section of the webbook, we’re going to discuss the major ways that you can organize and plan your day to day and week to week activities: the humble to do list. Of course, there are many different ways beyond the to do list to plan your tasks, but in this article we’re going to focus on this most common time management activity.

Creating Your Daily To Do List

In this section, we’re going to discuss the nuts and bolts of creating to do lists for your daily tasks. I encourage you to come up with your own system, as you’ll find tricks and tips that will work best for you and you alone. There is no way I can predict that, so I’m just going to give you the basic ingredients that go into any good daily task list.

  1. The first thing you should do is come up with a list of all the activities you need to do that day. If you are using a long term calender or to do list (see below), you can use these activities as ingredients to add to your list of things to do. Collect all the activities you need to do for that day; don’t be afraid to cut the unimportant or not urgent ones. Delegate if possible, because the fewer tasks you have to do, the better you can do the tasks that you’ve got on your plate.
  2. You will then need to have a place to put all these tasks. We’ll discuss much more about this in a second, but let’s assume for a second that you’ve got your task book ready.
  3. Next, prioritize. Do the activities that are most important first, though of course leave room for those that may be both urgent and important. (I’ll have more to say about prioritizing tasks in a section below.)
  4. Now that you’ve got your list up, the hard part: actually do the tasks! This is where the rubber hits the road. You may also need to come up with a reward system to help you incentivize and reward your successful task completions.
  5. Avoid incessant task switching. You’ve got a lot of goals todo, I know, but you need to focus on one at a time. Multi tasking never works, as I’ve stated in other chapters of this book, so pick a task, do it, complete it, and move on to the next one. You’ll be more productive and effective, and it will actually lower your stress as well, because multi tasking can be taxing and tiring.
  6. Stay organized. Organizational skills are critical when it comes to productivity (as I’ve discussed earlier), and part of maintaining your things to do list is keeping all the papers, materials, and other resources you need to do the work close at hand. Keep your desk or work area tidy; even if you think that you know where “everything is,” you will still benefit from having a clear and well-defined work area, at least subconsciously.
  7. Use the tools that are right for you. I’ll talk about this more in a later section on online to do list software’s benefits and drawbacks, but for now just know that sometimes paper and pencil is better than any kind of task list software. Some others like to mix the two, as they create printable to do lists on their computer in a word processing program which they then modify as necessary. (This is also how I manage my longer term templates.)
  8. One trick that I’ve found useful is to create a to do list template that I can reprint every day. This daily to do list template lists all the activities that I commonly do on particular days of the week. I can then add to that list or eliminate as needed based on what’s happening that particular day. You can find these templates out there for download, but I found the best way to get them is to make them yourself, as everyone’s needs and work habits are different. There is no one size fit all todo list out there!
  9. Note that it’s not the list itself that is important – it’s simply the act of organizing and planning. It’s what the list represents, not what it is!
  10. It may take time for you to build the todo list habit. Like all habits, you may forget or fail to use it; don’t worry if you make a mistake, just go back and try again. Eventually, you will build the habit to the point where you’ll forget how you could have gone without the list in the first place.
  11. Make sure the list is in a place that will remind you of its presence. If you ‘forget’ to consult your list, then what’s the point of making it in the first place?

Creating a Weekly (and Longer) Todo List

Of course, knowing what you’re doing on a particular day is the core principle when it comes to being productive and getting things done. However, you can only know what you really need to do if you have an idea of the bigger picture – what are you working towards in the long term? This is where creating weekly “todo lists” can come in handy.

Note that there are many ways to plan out your goals and objectives; we’ve discussed many different such systems and ideas in this webbook. You don’t need to create a “to do list” in the manner of the daily list for your weekly; you can do whatever system you want. The point is that you need to have some way of keeping track your long term goals so that you get the ‘ingredients’ for what you can include on your shorter term task lists.

The key aspect of this goes beyond organization skills, though – it’s also about breaking down these goals into smaller tasks. One of the best things you can do is take each large project and slice and dice it into as many miniature tasks as you can. These are tasks that you can reasonably complete in about an hour; when it comes time to do the work, you can simply add each of these mini tasks to your task queue.

You will need to review this list at least weekly, just to remind you of your larger goals and to adapt to any changes that might have occurred in the period between the last review and this one.

Some Tips on Prioritization

One of the most pieces of your arsenal of planning skills should be your ability to prioritize. Here are some tips:

  1. Organize your daily tasks by priority. The method I use is the “ABC” system. The most critical tasks get A, then the important tasks get B, and the tasks lowest on the list get B. When you tackle your tasks, finish the A tasks, then go for the B, and then hit the C tasks if you have time.
  2. One important tip is to always tackle your most important task first thing in the morning. “Eating your frog” is an important tip because it will give you the energy and focus to go after the other tasks on your list. And, if for some reason you don’t get anything else done, you will at least take solace in the fact that you completed your most important task for the day.
  3. Priority management isn’t a rocket science. What’s important to do “right now” depends on your short term and long term needs and goals. There’s a balance to be had there, and with experience you will figure out what works best for you and leads you to the highest levels of productivity and success.

Should I Use To Do List Software?

Of course, the answer to this question is not “yes” or “no” but “if it helps you get things done.” That’s the only measure of whether or not you should use any special equipment or technology is if it actually helps you. And this should really matter to you especially if you are paying for it; the only reason you should not download to do list freeware is if a paid version will really supercharge your productivity.

I believe, however, that sometimes this to do software and other task management software can be more trouble than they are worth. You can get programs that run directly on your desktop, or you can get ones that work through a web browser, but perhaps the most popular are the ones that can be used in hand held devices. I used some various to do list apps on my iPhone, and I’ve seen others use such applications on their android and other smart phones. However, my experience was that it was more annoying to have to pull out my phone, switch it on, go to the app, and interact with the tasks there than just having it on a piece of paper that I could scratch off and edit instantly. It seems to me that sometimes using this technology can be more of a crutch; we are trying to make our task system “fun” when it should just be about getting down to business.

There are also some disadvantages to using technology to keep track of your tasks. For instance, if you use a task planner on your computer, you will only be able to have access to it when you are actually near the computer, even if you are able to sync your to do list online so that you can access it anywhere. Even in that case you will still need to be around a computer; having an online todo list is nice, but sometimes just having a pad of paper in your pocket is better for the convenience.

Another disadvantage to any kind of to do app is that it stays “out of sight, out of mind.” You can forget about your list and what’s on it if you have it in your pocket. Having a regular, paper and pencil task organizer can of course have this problem too, but at least you can keep it out and in front of you at all times. There’s also something nice about having your tasks laid out in a physical manner, and there’s really nothing better in many ways than taking a pen and crossing out the tasks that you’ve just completed. It’s quite satisfying!

Sometimes these programs can also be annoying to handle, in that entering a task can be more trouble than its worth. This may be just my feeling, though, as I am biased towards the paper and pencil variety – your mileage may vary.

There are benefits, of course. Being able to keep your day in your smartphone is quite convenient, and many of these online todo sites and programs are free or at least very cheap. In addition, they can offer you interesting features that can streamline your planning process. Plus, sometimes todo online programs and apps are just plain old fun to use – and if this makes you use them and actually get stuff done, nice!

There are plenty of other articles out there that will give you the best to do list software, programs, and apps, but I think that goes beyond the point. The software should never be the focus – the tasks and getting them done¬†should always be primary. So I won’t go ahead and give you my top 10 list of todo list software and where to download these items. If you want them, you’ll find them. I just ask you to try the paper and pencil method first – it may be all you need!\

==> Go to Chapter 9: The Best Time Management Books, Courses, and Programs