The famous to-do list is a tool for organizing your work that has existed for a long time. It has fervent enthusiasts, but also strong opponents. Don’t we always have too much to do and never enough time? And yet, the success of a to-do list doesn’t lie in knowing how to do more, but in knowing what you can’t do. You just need to follow these two key rules.
Establish your priorities
The biggest mistake you can make with a to-do list is to use it as a measure of your personal worth by confusing quality and quantity. This piece of paper or digital app isn’t meant to torture you, so resist the temptation to write down everything that comes to mind and keep to what is urgent and important.
To establish what is most important, you can ask yourself what you would do if you could only work one hour a day. One task will stand out as a priority and become your main objective of the day. And if you had an extra hour, what secondary tasks would be on your list?
The Eisenhower method can also help you divide up your work into more or less important categories:
- Urgent and important tasks: those that you absolutely must do during the day to avoid negative consequences and those that you would work overtime for.
- Important, non-urgent tasks: those you need to plan to do as soon as possible within the next ten days.
- Urgent, unimportant tasks: those that you can delegate quickly to get them off your hands while knowing they will get done.
- Non-urgent, unimportant tasks: those that don’t require your attention in the coming days, that you can push back or that you can strike off completely.
Be specific when you write down your tasks, beginning with an action verb so that you know what to do when reading them.
Estimate the time it will take
If you’re under the impression that time is against you, it could be because you underestimate the time it takes to complete your daily tasks.
By writing down how long things take you, in order of priority on your list, you’ll see the total time you need, whether that time is realistic or not for your work hours. Even if you work 9-to-5, you still need to deduct breaks and meals, as well as unforeseen events that can eat into up to 30% of your time.
It takes practice and self-honesty to estimate how long things really take, but in the end it will help you make an effective list containing only the priorities that you actually have time to do during the day.
You can breathe easier, concentrate better and accomplish your work without dead weight by using a list that takes into account the priority and duration of tasks relative to the actual time you have during the day. It doesn’t matter if you use an app, a notebook or a Post-it, the best to-do list will be one of your invention, because it will be for you by you.