Whether it’s scribbled on your hand, in a battered old notebook, or typed into your iPhone, your to-do list is the throbbing heart of personal productivity. The simple act of committing your obligations to paper is an easy way to keep tasks and reminders from slipping through the cracks of your over-stuffed mind.
But in many ways, how you write it is just as important as what you write. Here are a few potential to-do list make-overs for your own messy hodgepodge of tasks and responsibilities:
Don’t Write Everything Down
Wait, that’s counter-intuitive — why wouldn’t you keep track of all of your tasks? Though I’m a firm believer in recording even tiny errands, I have one little exception: if you can finish a task in fewer than five minutes, without moving from where you are, don’t write it down. Just do it. Taking the time to write out tiny tasks like “email mom” or “print out tax papers” can make your list miles long and increases the risk that no-brainer tasks will be prioritized behind high-profile jobs and eventually forgotten. Cut off accidental procrastination at the source and just get ‘er done.
Hey Freelancers, Organize Tasks by Creative Energy Required
Most creative types have at some point faced the grim experience of sitting down to write or design on a deadline, only to spend half an hour staring at a blank computer screen with drooling incomprehension. Pity the muse doesn’t always make housecalls, right?
But there’s always more than enough work to do in a freelancer’s life. If you divide your to-do list into separate columns for creative and mindless tasks, it’s easier to stay encouraged during low-inspiration work sessions. Plus, often when you’ve checked a few items off of the donkey-work side of the list, you’ll find the thrill of productivity has repleted some of your creativity hitpoints.
Mark Tasks According To Where You Can Work On Them
Part of the beauty of the untemplated lifestyle is that you can work anywhere. The double-edge, though, is that you sometimes find yourself forced to work everywhere, and all the time, to boot. Help yourself take advantage of the 24 usable hours in every day by keeping separate lists or making special notations for tasks that must be done in the office, those that can be done at home, and oddball items you can check off anywhere. That way, next time you’re feeling stressed out on the bus, you can check your to-do list and knock out a few emails, brainstorm your next freelance article, or address your grandma’s birthday card.
Give Yourself a Written Pat on the Back
It’s easy to get caught up in the mounds of work you’ve yet to finish, but — especially if you check it multiple times a day — why not use your to-do list can also serve as a source of positive reinforcement for work already accomplished. Spent some time doing a useful but unforeseen task? Create a “Have Done” section in your list’s margin and scribble that sucker down. Even if you don’t make a dent in your original list because you spend a day putting out fires, at the end of the day you won’t wonder how your time slipped away.
And while we’re at it, hey, tiger, you ever consider adding occasional items like “read for half an hour” or “eat a nice meal without multi-tasking” to your list? Making your own mental well-being a top priority every once in a while isn’t a weakness; it’s what lets you keep churning out high-quality work week after week.
There are as many types of to-do lists as there are people who keep them, but sometimes all yours needs is a quick make-over to help trick you into productivity superstardom. What techniques do you use to keep the romance alive with your to-do list?