The to-do list is hardly the most complex or glamorous aspect of working life. Just a simple catalog of items to be completed, it's hard to imagine that there can be much technique to writing one and that improving yours can actually yield gains in productivity. But Gen Y blog Untemplater would beg to differ with those that see to-do list as self-explanatory and boring. In a recent post the blog laid out four ways to improve your to-do lists, supercharging your productivity with very little effort.
Don't Write Everything Down. Wait, that's counter-intuitive -- why wouldn't you keep track of all of your tasks? Though I'm a firm believer in recording even tiny errands, I have one little exception: if you can finish a task in fewer than five minutes, without moving from where you are, don't write it down. Just do it. Taking the time to write out tiny tasks like "email mom" or "print out tax papers" can make your list miles long and increases the risk that no-brainer tasks will be prioritized behind high-profile jobs and eventually forgotten. Cut off accidental procrastination at the source and just get 'er done.
Organize Tasks by Creative Energy Required. Most creative types have at some point faced the grim experience of sitting down to write or design on a deadline, only to spend half an hour staring at a blank computer screen with drooling incomprehension. But there's always more than enough work to do. If you divide your to-do list into separate columns for creative and mindless tasks, it's easier to stay encouraged during low-inspiration work sessions. Plus, often when you've checked a few items off of the donkey-work side of the list, you'll find the thrill of productivity has replenished some of your creativity hitpoints.
Mark Tasks According To Where You Can Work On Them Help yourself take advantage of the 24 usable hours in every day by keeping separate lists or making special notations for tasks that must be done in the office, those that can be done at home, and oddball items you can check off anywhere. That way, next time you're feeling stressed out on the bus, you can check your to-do list and knock out a few emails, brainstorm your next freelance article, or address your grandma's birthday card.
Give Yourself a Written Pat on the Back. Your to-do list can also serve as a source of positive reinforcement for work already accomplished. Spent some time doing a useful but unforeseen task? Create a "Have Done" section in your list's margin and scribble that sucker down. Even if you don't make a dent in your original list because you spend a day putting out fires, at the end of the day you won't wonder how your time slipped away. And while we're at it, consider adding occasional items like "read for half an hour" or "eat a nice meal without multi-tasking" to your list. Making your own mental well-being a top priority every once in a while isn't a weakness; it's what lets you keep churning out high-quality work week after week.