It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of tasks you have to do. Whether that’s for the day, the week or more long term. At work, or even at home. In this post I’ll share some tips to make your to do list more effective, and invite you to take the next step to super power your productivity.
I find that the only way to counter that overwhelming feeling, and get myself to a place where I’m able to start doing, is to write everything down. This simple act clears my head. The brain power I’m using to remember what I need to do, the dependencies and deadlines, is freed up to focus on the tasks themselves.
Tips for an effective to do list
Here are my tips for an effective to do list.
Pick a system
The first choice is whether to opt for a paper list or an online tool. The obvious benefits of a digital list is that it’s with you wherever you go; find an app that you can access offline and that will sync across multiple devices. One drawback of the digital tools I’ve found is that it takes a bit more thought; you need to open up the app or log in to take action. Sometimes it’s too easy to forget about its existence!
To help you get started we’ve created a printable to do list template.
Break down big tasks
You’ve got your list, now you need to start adding things to it. Make sure you keep each task discrete; if it’s something big, break it down at this stage into manageable chunks.
As you add each task to your list, give a rough estimate of the time it will take to complete. This will help you when it comes to planning out your time and order you tackle each task
Prioritise your tasks
Along with how long each task is likely to take, identify any tasks which are urgent and/or important. Perhaps you want to use a key for this? Mark urgent tasks with a circle and important tasks with an asterisk – you’ll quickly be able to see which tasks are both urgent and important when you scan your list.
Make time for planning
Book end your day with a few minutes planning your work using your to do list. At the start of the day, review your list; add any new items and cross off anything that’s no longer required. When you reach the end of the day do the same and get a head start on what’s coming up tomorrow. Move anything not done to tomorrow’s list or a separate list for long term work.
Once you’ve got to this point it’s now time to ask yourself – is there anything more satisfying (in the context of work) than ticking something off your to do list?
Task and time management
If you want to take your to do list to new levels you can learn from Toyota’s lean manufacturing system – Kanban.
Using this method you have three lists; to do, doing and done. This works particularly well as a way of managing tasks across teams, but I find it just as useful for managing my own flow of tasks. Here’s how it works:
- Divide up a large sheet of paper/whiteboard into three columns and name them left to right: to do, doing, done.
- In the to do column create a backlog of all the things you need to do – use one sticky note per task
- Move the highest priority tasks (max. 2-3) along to the ‘doing’ list
- Get working! Move tasks from doing to ‘done’ as you complete them
- As you move tasks to done, top up your doing list from your backlog
That’s the analogue system. You can also implement this with a digital system, which you’ll find particularly useful if you’re applying this method in a team. A great free tool for managing a Kanban board is Trello. Doug Belshaw gives a great introduction to Trello and Kanban on his blog.
A personal solution
The most important thing about any system is that it works for you (and your team if you’re working collaboratively). It might take you a few experiments and some tweaking to find out what works best.
Hopefully you’ve found the basic principles covered useful. Let us know in the comments and share your top tips for to do lists and task management.
Remember, download and print our to do list template to help you get started.
Jenny Delasalle says
I’ve printed the “to do list” template out, to give it a try. You’re right about personal systems. I change the colour of ink in my pens every couple of weeks – that way I can tell if there’s a really old to do list hanging around. But then I hate being haunted by old lists, so I often re-write action points onto new lists!!