To-do lists can be highly effective in helping you reach your goals. It can help you identify all your tasks, manage your time, and get things done.
But there's a catch —
To-do lists need to be optimized.
Gone are the days that all you need is a simple list of activities. With the ever-increasing demands of modern day life, you need to know how to maximize your to-do list or end up feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled at the end of each day.
In order to use to-do lists as a tool to boost productivity instead of hinder it, here are five mistakes you must avoid and ways to fix them:
To-do List Mistake #1: Not written down
According to best-selling author and productivity specialist David Allen, our minds are for thinking, not remembering.
The benefits of having your tasks (and even your goals) written down are severely underrated. Not only do you have a reminder of everything you need to do, but you can also implement a higher level of thinking to process everything you need to do (This will be covered more in Mistake #2).
Having tasks written down also enables you to track your progress and literally see what else needs to be done based on the bigger picture. Writing things down helps you focus and prevent overwhelm.
A simple example of this is taking a trip to the grocery store without a written down list of things to buy. Have you ever done this and forgot something? I have.
The same thing happened at the hardware store and in a party supplies store. It only needs to happen so many times before you figure out it's best to have a shopping list with you next time.
How to fix it: Write everything down.
Take a piece of paper and fill it up with all you that you need to do. Don't worry about organization or prioritization at first. Just make sure every task is captured.
To-do List Mistake #2: No focus
Oftentimes to-do lists are simply a dump of tasks —
Finish presentation, change porch light, call plumber, meet with client, submit proposal, cook dinner, schedule doctor's appointment, and so on...
The problem with this is that simply listing down Tasks 1 to 100 will no longer cut it. Nowadays, you need to choose which to act on because you have so many that they don't all fit within 24 hours.
The key is to prioritize, my friend.
Once you're able to prioritize your tasks in the order of importance and urgency, you avoid feeling unfulfilled because you will have completed the most important and most urgent tasks first.
For other activities that don't fall under these categories, sometimes called "open loops," listing them down elsewhere in a "Go over later" list is highly encouraged so you won't be bothered by them before then.
How to fix it: Take your list from before and identify the top 3 tasks you need to do every day. Make sure to avoid multi-tasking and do them in order.
This prevents ending the day having only done the "small things" that make little to no impact on your life, business, or relationships.
Aside from identifying which are important and urgent, you can use a helpful acronym I came up with called SMITN which stands for single most important task now.
To-do List Mistake #3: Too general
While it's encouraged to set high, overarching goals, you need to break them down into small and manageable steps. These steps are what you're supposed to put on your to-do list.
If your to-do list contains tasks that are too general or unrealistic, this will simply overwhelm or discourage you from making progress.
A simple example is if your goal is to publish a blog post, you may want to break it down into 1.) conduct research, 2.) create outline, 3.) draft content, 4.) write introduction, 5.) write conclusion, 6.) proof-read, 7.) select images, and 8.) promote post.
Of course, it all depends on your priorities and objectives, but the point is to create a helpful step-by-step procedure that helps you consistently complete your tasks.
How to fix it: Make sure each task is connected to your goal as specific and measurable action steps.
To-do List Mistake #4: No time blocking
One sure-fire way to make the most of your to-do list is to assign your tasks to a specific timeframe. Scheduling your activities assures that they will be completed, and all of them will be given enough attention at the right time.
The same principle is behind setting a doctor's visit, client meeting, or DMV appointment — you've committed your time to those activities and are therefore most likely to attend to them.
By time blocking, you’ll also be able to gauge how long it takes you to do certain tasks, which ones are the time-wasters, and when and where to devote your energy.
How to fix it: Take your top 3 tasks and schedule them throughout your day. Be careful as to not multi-task.
Ideally, you should complete your #1 priority in the morning since it's the most important and/or urgent one. This is related to the concepts in Brian Tracy's book Eat That Frog!
To-do List Mistake #5: No rest period
This is the most common mistake found in people's to-do lists.
Rest periods are truly important to prevent burnout and instead, maximize your mental, physical, and emotional capabilities.
A pause of five minutes, twenty minutes, or even one hour between each task is crucial if you want to maintain that sacred balance of time, energy, and attention.
Take note, both the length and quality of the rest period are important here. Some tasks need a longer break than others, while what you do during the break needs to be considered as well.
How to fix it: Schedule a rest period between each task. Even if you don't feel tired, it's a good idea to take a moment while you switch from one task to another.
Want a tangible way to be productive?
To-do lists can indeed be highly effective in helping you reach your goals. But even better than a to-do list is an optimized to-do list — one that is written down, focused, specific and measurable, broken down by time blocks, and includes rest periods.
Share in the comments: Which of these mistakes are you guilty of? What other ways have you made the most of your to-do lists?