To-do lists are an excellent tool to keep you motivated, on track and in control of your workload. However, while it is easy to make a to-do list, doing it right can be a bit more challenging. We have all become more accountable for our own productivity to some extent since the switch to remote working. Deadlines still exist of course, but without the supervision or social cues that exist in an office setting, it is natural to lose track of what needs to be done and by when.
Businesses have also seen a rise in virtual meetings that now hold permanent residency in the work schedule, which in turn has made prioritising and completing assignments seem like a huge task in itself. Implementing these 5 tips when preparing your to-do list not only will not only optimise your productivity but will also help to reduce work-related stress as a result.
- Break it down
The most important change you can make to your to-do list if you haven’t already done so is to create a daily checklist based on your weekly and long-term objectives. Considering the due date and time required, aim to list three manageable tasks for each workday and check these off as you complete them.
If you have a project that you know will take a considerable amount of time and effort, try breaking it down into smaller tasks that you can fit into your workweek. This exercise allows you to focus on one thing at a time and it gives your brain enough time to recharge before tackling the next part of the assignment. As such, motivation will increase as you won’t have a looming deadline in the back of your mind as you focus on the task at hand.
- Eat That Frog
This method, coined by Brian Tracy, involves taking your most challenging task (the “frog”) and completing (or “eating”) it before facing the smaller assignments. The reasoning behind this is that once you complete the task you’ve been putting off, you’re likely to feel more motivated and energised for the rest of the day.
This is down to three factors –
- You will have a greater appreciation for the subsequent tasks after you have finished the most challenging one.
- You will have shaken the underlying anxiety from putting off your largest project.
- You will achieve a sense of accomplishment by ticking it off the list.
So, the next time you’re putting your daily to-do list together, be sure to identify your “frog” and tackle that one first.
- Schedule your tasks
Our calendars have undoubtedly filled up since switching to remote working. It can be difficult to take on a new task in between appointments and it can be disheartening to get to work on something you know you won’t complete by the time the next meeting rolls around. This is where you can utilise your schedule’s full potential.
Next to each task, estimate how long it will take to complete it, and find a vacant slot during the day where you can work on it and add it to your schedule. If time runs out, don’t continue to push past the time limit; simply carry out this exercise for the remaining work and slot it into your calendar. This is where you can really utilise those free 15-minute slots between meetings.
When the reminder appears in your calendar, treat it like a business meeting and show up for the task. If the temptation arises to get started on other things, just remember – you put it in there for a reason and you’ll be relieved once you’ve completed it. And don’t forget to schedule time for breaks to avoid burnout.
- Set deadlines for yourself
It’s easy to put off tasks if there’s no sense of urgency to get them done. If you know something isn’t due until the end of the month, then you’re less likely to prioritise it over something that is due at the end of the week. However, this can actually affect our motivation to complete these more urgent tasks as it is likely to remain in the back of your mind until you’ve completed it.
If a deadline hasn’t been given to you, then set one for yourself and treat it the same way as you would other deadlines that have been assigned. Not only will this help in completing the task, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of completing the task on your own terms ahead of schedule.
- Be realistic
When it comes to tackling our to-do list, we can be inclined to bite off more than we can chew. If you don’t have enough hours in the day to complete something, add it to the list for another day. Of course, it’s great to set high expectations, but if you try and squeeze 5 hour-long tasks into a day where you have allocated three hours to spend on projects, you are destined to end the day feeling unaccomplished. Most importantly, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t get everything ticked off by the time the week is over. Remember - your to-do list is there to keep you on track, not to make you feel inadequate.
In summary, integrating these helpful tips will optimise your to-do list, prevent your workload from piling up, and increasing motivation as a result:
- Break down your master task list into a daily to-do list and aim to complete three tasks per day
- Break larger tasks into smaller ones where possible and treat them as individual tasks on your to-do list
- Identify your most challenging task from your to-do list and start with that one first.
- Plan your tasks around your schedule and make sure to include time for breaks to mentally recharge
- If a deadline hasn’t been given to you, set one for yourself and stick to it.
- Be realistic with yourself about what you can get done in an average workday and don’t punish yourself if you don’t get everything done by the end of the week.