February 5, 2023

How prime performers make their to-do lists

9 min read


As a working mother, I stay by my to-do lists. From deadlines, appointments, and conferences to playdates, pediatrician follow-ups, and nanny pay days, nothing escapes my long-winded lists.

Nevertheless it’s simple to get caught up during which fancy app or system it’s best to use on your checklist. A lot of (very nerdy) web arguments focus on the appropriate method. Must you keep on with pencil and paper? An iPhone app?

“I’m a agency believer in David Allen’s Getting Issues Completed philosophy — that ‘your thoughts is for having concepts, not holding them,’” stated Liz Sumner, a productiveness coach. In that case, getting to-dos out of your mind and right into a system you belief is one of the best ways to focus and carry out your finest work. However which one?

That’s why we requested Sumner and Tor Refsland, an award-winning time administration blogger and search engine optimisation specialist, for recommendation on how you can put collectively the “good” to-do checklist.

Step 1: Pre-drafting

To attain the most effective to-do checklist outcomes, take a while earlier than drafting your subsequent one to evaluate your habits. Take into consideration a number of logistical particulars:

1. Contemplate your kind of labor. Search for repeatable rhythms in your work — duties that occur on the similar time every single day, week, or month — so you can begin with a typical guidelines or template and add from there. For instance, as an search engine optimisation strategist, Refsland says his each day core actions are divided into three classes:

  1. Rank personal web sites on prime of Google
  2. Get new purchasers
  3. Rank purchasers’ web sites on prime of Google

From there he can insert different one-off to-dos as wanted. In case your job includes delegation and teamwork, you should definitely embrace precisely who you must collaborate with in your checklist. (ie. “Examine in with Xander re. new launch platform progress” or “Talk about with Staff Y new June goals.”)

2. Do you favor each day or weekly lists? Keep in mind that weekly lists will likely be longer, which can be off-putting to some. For those who desire the sensation of beginning every day with a recent slate, you’ll most likely profit from each day to-do lists over weekly ones. For those who desire understanding what’s coming down the pipeline always, a weekly checklist would possibly work higher (however will want fixed repairs anyway as issues change).

3. Will you mix areas of your life? Based on Sumner, it’s wonderful to mix completely different areas (private, work, and so forth.) of your life on one checklist. The true trick is to keep away from including objects that you simply aren’t dedicated to finishing, like “Lastly clear hallway closet.”

4. Arrange a system that ensures workflow seize. You’ll want some kind of an inbox to seize all of your duties, in addition to common evaluate time to course of the inbox objects into the appropriate bucket, says Sumner. It may be a ache to categorize objects in the course of a name or assembly, so having a “staging” space helps.

Some folks like to make use of an internet system like Insightly or GTDNext, whereas others discover writing duties on a plain previous white board or in a pocket book just like the SELF journal will get the job finished. After you understand how you’ll preserve monitor of your duties, which course of you resolve to observe to prepare and execute these duties is fully as much as you. A couple of widespread ones:

  1. Getting Issues Completed (GTD): That is the system Sumner prefers.The GTD system requires you to ask the next questions of every process: What’s it? Is it actionable? What’s the subsequent motion? “If it takes lower than two minutes, do it proper then,” stated Sumner. “If not, then delegate it or defer it.” (Extra right here.)    
  2. Motion Methodology: Utilizing the Motion Methodology, you’ll place your initiatives (aka to-dos) into the next buckets: Motion Steps (a listing of particular duties you must get finished on any given day), References (together with any supplementary information you must get your duties finished like movies, articles, hyperlinks, and so forth.) and Backburners (issues that don’t must be finished proper now, like concepts, future pitches and targets). (Extra right here.)    
  3. Bullet Journal: The Bullet Journal system suggests that you simply preserve a grasp checklist the place you constantly add non-urgent duties and also you cross them off as you accomplish them. From that authentic checklist, you’d create each day to-do lists that embrace any objects which have change into time-sensitive. These each day to-do lists needs to be as particular and actionable as doable, and will even embrace a bit for the highest duties that must be completed for the day. Determine these out by asking your self: What duties can have probably the most affect on my day? What duties have to get finished at the moment? If I get nothing else finished at the moment, what duties will make me really feel probably the most completed? (Extra right here.)

Step 2: Creating your checklist

Drafting a to-do checklist might sound easy, however except you’ve put some cautious thought into it, the system might fail you. For instance, Refsland recommends planning your to-do checklist about one week upfront (making updates as needed), and looking at it every evening when your work is completed to make any needed changes.

“If you have already got issues coming down the pipeline, then you’ll know what must be scheduled, or when you don’t have issues in your subsequent week to-do checklist, you’ll be able to deal with the actions that finest swimsuit you, like bringing extra money to your corporation,” he stated. “For those who observe the weekly and evening earlier than ritual concerning planning your to-do checklist, you shouldn’t spend greater than 15-Half-hour finishing it.”

These Half-hour can appear pointless however a easy planning session saves a ton of time throughout your day, so that you by no means spend your priceless power questioning what try to be doing subsequent.

Then, on the subject of development of your checklist, do the next:

1. Break massive, obscure initiatives into chunks. Sumner recommends taking massive initiatives and breaking them into smaller, easier-to-manage chunks that you could sort out all through the week. “We have a tendency to think about initiatives because the top-level desired outcome,” she stated. “Really, every result’s made up of a number of motion steps. The extra you break it down, the extra doable they appear.”

2. Assign a precedence stage for every merchandise. Sumner additionally recommends together with info on time sensitivity or based mostly on restricted home windows of alternative. To take this one step additional, Refsland prioritizes his personal to-do checklist duties utilizing the ABCDE technique:

  1. Duties I need to do — severe penalties in the event that they don’t get finished.
  2. Duties I ought to do — gentle penalties in the event that they don’t get finished.
  3. Duties I might do — no penalties in the event that they don’t get finished.
  4. Duties I delegate.
  5. Duties I by no means do. (The kicker, says Refsland, is to by no means do a B process earlier than you might have finished all of the A duties, to by no means do a C process earlier than you might have finished all of the B duties, and so forth.)

3. Restrict the objects you embrace. You’ll be able to’t at all times management what number of conferences you might have in a day, however attempt to be practical about how a lot you’ll be able to really get finished in a workday. “It’s necessary that the objects you placed on the to-do checklist for the subsequent day are literally practical so that you can full,” stated Refsland. “If not, it’s not a to-do checklist, it’s a want checklist.” Don’t make your to-dos paragraphs that can take you 10 minutes to get via — preserve every one restricted to 2 sentences max to get rid of time waste. One good rule of thumb: if your entire to-do checklist objects don’t match on a Submit-It be aware, they received’t match into your day.

4. Be particular. Separate the “good thought, possibly sometime” objects from those who you actually intend to do. “In any other case you might have a multi-page checklist that can by no means get finished and takes its toll in your psychological power,” Sumner stated. If you must, preserve a separate “dream” checklist, however solely take a look at it if you’ve crossed all of the objects off your precise to-do checklist.

5. Make your objects actionable. Embody a verb with every merchandise in your checklist, and the extra particular the higher, says Sumner. For instance, “don’t simply say ‘storage,’” she steered. “As a substitute, say ‘take previous shifting containers and paint cans to recycling; arrange backyard instruments.’ It’s simpler to anticipate the time required and makes an enormous process much less daunting.”

6. Place your to-do checklist in a strategic location. In case your to-do checklist is in a pocket book or on a dry-erase board that might simply be seen — slightly than hidden in your cellphone or laptop someplace — Refsland recommends trying to discover out what your subsequent process is, then hiding it away. “Gazing your to-do checklist on a regular basis will likely be counterproductive and simply make you lose focus,” he stated.

7. Don’t make your checklist in an electronic mail. For Sumner, utilizing your electronic mail inbox to maintain monitor of your to-do checklist is a giant mistake since you’ll doubtless waste extra time and power paging via dozens of different emails to get to what you want. Plus, you might be permitting different folks to dictate your to-do checklist each time they ship an electronic mail.

8. Do embrace time for breaks in your checklist. Refsland suggests skipping breaks throughout to-do duties and placing time apart to take breaks in between duties, as a substitute. “Don’t take a brief break to test your electronic mail or social media accounts,” he stated. “You’ll lose monitor and change into very unproductive.” If that you’ve time for a break arising you’ll be extra more likely to energy via.

9. Cross objects off as you go. Crossing objects off as you go isn’t simply satisfying, nevertheless it’ll additionally aid you take note of what isn’t getting finished and to judge why, says Sumner. Wanting on the objects that haven’t been crossed off your to-do checklist will assist instantly with Step 3.

Step 3: Evaluation

Creating the right to-do checklist will take a while as you determine what works for you, so weighing the way it went after a pair tries is crucial to getting it proper. To do this, begin by wanting again on the objects that weren’t crossed off your latest lists. Ask your self why they remained undone.

Was the duty unimportant in spite of everything?

Have been you unclear how you can proceed?

Was it one thing you’re merely avoiding?

“Most objects in your checklist are going to fall underneath considered one of three classes: discover out, resolve, or do,” stated Sumner. “You both want to assemble info, decide, or take motion. For those who haven’t been making progress, it could be since you’re making an attempt to take motion earlier than doing the analysis, or making an necessary alternative. Everytime you’re caught, ask your self, ‘Is there one thing I would like to seek out out, resolve, or do to make this occur?’”

To do that, Sumner recommends pondering of your to-do checklist as separate from a private targets checklist. “To-do is extra granular,” she stated. “Targets are extra massive image. I do a fast evaluate of my to-do checklist within the morning and on the finish of the day. On the finish of the week I look forward to ensure I’m on monitor to satisfy deadlines. I wish to evaluate main targets at the least twice a 12 months — quarterly is best.”

If an merchandise has caught round in your to-do checklist for a lot of iterations, ask your self what makes it necessary. Are you doing it for another person and it’s time to cross the accountability again since you merely don’t have the time? Can you discover the motivation by altering your perspective or discovering an alternate resolution? For those who really suppose an merchandise is value finishing, transfer up its significance to get it finished, or else take away it fully after a month of hanging round.

Keep in mind that organising an ideal to-do checklist is nice, however it’s best to at all times permit your self room for flexibility. “It’s at all times necessary to try the large image, and ensure that your to-do checklist is aligned with that,” stated Refsland. “In case your massive technique modifications, then it will more than likely affect the actions in your to-do checklist.” Be adaptable and also you’ll discover your to-do checklist will aid you go far.



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