Increase your output with these easy-to-implement and effective to-do list techniques
In my last post, I described how to set up a to-do list that works for you. However, if you don’t use your task list effectively, you won’t realise the benefits of a good to-do list. In this post, you’ll learn the techniques used by many high-achieving entrepreneurs and business leaders. These 12 hacks help you unlock your potential by making your to-do lists work for you.
Hack #1: Identify your MITs and HITs
Ever heard of MITs and HITs? These are your Most Important Tasks (MITs) and High Impact Tasks (HITs). These terms are used interchangeably. An MIT is a task that is really important to you and that you want to do during the day in question. A HIT is a task that will move you towards your ultimate goals faster. If you ask me, it’s two definitions for the same thing.
Set up between one and three of these tasks every day. Focus all your energy on finishing these tasks and you will have a great and successful day. The rest will flow automatically around it. You’ll be amazed at the speed at which your goals are unlocked.
Hack #2: List ALL your projects
Your main to-do list should include everything you have planned or are working on now. Those things that you don’t consider important now, like a bucket list of things to do before you die, but also projects or tasks that you want to start in some months, can be put on a second list. By including everything in this way, you free your brain to forget about the non-important (for now at least) tasks. This helps you focus on what needs to be done first, while providing a reminder of things that you must (or would like to) do in the future.
For example, a client of mine creates an annual report for the association for which she works, but this doesn’t have to be done until the end of the year. Rather than let it bug her constantly, she has set it up in her task manager on a project list. Now she is reminded when she reviews her to-do list.
Hack #3: Don’t forget your long-term and life goals, and plan tasks to achieve them
You should have a list that includes all of your long-term goals, whether professional of personal. Only then will it help you to achieve them. Each time you review your lists, consider what tasks you should add to your to-do list as so that move you towards your long-term goals. These then become part of your MITs and HITs.
Hack #4: Have your calendar and to-do list live together, and let them show you the way during the day
Run your task manager alongside your calendar, working form them both simultaneously. You calendar shows your all your activities that are bound to a specific date and time. You task manager 'tells you' exactly what you should do when you have an opening in your calendar, time to work. That way, your system leads you to do exactly what you need to do to accomplish your goals. You eliminate the need to make those small but difficult decisions about what to do next (which we often then don't make, leading to lots of procrastination). When you’ve completed all of one day’s tasks, you have the option to start work on the following day’s tasks or celebrate a successful day.
Hack #5: Make time for planning
It may sound counterintuitive to spend your time on planning your time, but it really is key to greater productivity. By planning the week ahead and the day to come, you create an overview for yourself, it becomes easy to prioritise, and ultimately you give yourself a laser-sharp focus. The long to-do lists that you have set up can be forgotten while you concentrate on what you have planned. I suggest you:
- Schedule a one-hour planning session at the end of each week. Look at the week ahead. Review your project list and your long-term goals. Plan your big rocks in your calendar. Review all meetings you have planned (do you really need to go, or can you skip, delegate, or cancel?). Check your ‘Now’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Someday’ tasks. Should some be promoted to a higher priority? Do you have new tasks to add? Can some be deleted? At the end of your weekly planning session, you should have the following week mapped out.
- Set aside 15 minutes at the end of each day to plan the day ahead. Decide your MITs/HITs. Review the meetings you have scheduled. Are there other tasks from your ‘Soon’ list that you can add to your ‘Now’ list? At the end of this session, you will have your next day perfectly planned.
Some people prefer to do their daily planning at the end of a day for the following day, while others prefer to do it at the start of a day. Pick whichever is best for you.
Hack #6: Keep your daily to-do list realistic and achievable
Don’t try to do too much. You are also human! Limit your day to a maximum of one to three HITs/MITs and perhaps five smaller tasks. Don’t forget to factor in time for meetings, commuting, interruptions, and personal ‘must dos’ such as eating and exercise. And don’t neglect your family!
Hack #7: Make your tasks ‘SAS’
When adding tasks to your to-do list, make them ‘SAS’:
- Specific – so that you immediately know what to do when you read the task.
- Actionable – a clear action to be done, by you, not others. (Start each task with a verb such as ‘Do’ or ‘Write’ or ‘Call’ or ‘Brainstorm’).
- Small – so that the task is achievable. Big tasks and long-term goals should be broken down into smaller tasks.
Hack #8: Fully describe the task
When you add a task to your to-do list, include everything that you need to accomplish it:
- Add files that you might need, and links to websites if the task requires it
- Include phone numbers of people you may need to call
- If a task has a deadline, make sure you give it a due date
This helps you to focus on the task without becoming distracted by the need to hunt out documents, surf the web, or search for telephone numbers. You’ll also have a to-do list that immediately warns you of tasks that are urgent.
Hack #9: Only include important tasks
Many people stuff their days with small, often not-so-important tasks that just keep them busy. Forget about these, and start concentrating only on things that are really important to you. Remember that productive people aren’t those who do the most, they are those who achieve the most. Review and revise your list for quality, not quantity.
Hack #10: Sweep your list for ‘not-to-do’ tasks
During your weekly planning sessions, identify those tasks that are no longer relevant or actually not important to you. Delete these not-to-do tasks from your list. (Be prepared for just how awesome this makes you feel!)
Hack #11: Evaluate tasks you didn’t do
Take time to consider the tasks that you didn’t do or didn’t complete. Ask yourself:
- Was this task too broad or not specific enough? (The answer here is to break the task down into smaller tasks.)
- Was the task important? (If not, should you delete it from your to-do list?)
- Can it be that you do not really want to do this task? (See if you can delegate it. If not, put it on the to-do list for the following day and get it done first thing.)
- Did you have too many things to do? (Review your to-do lists. Delete those tasks that are unimportant. When you do your daily planning, decide which tasks you will do and delete the others – or move them to another day – because they are less important and you don’t have the time.)
Hack #12: Eat that frog!
Mark Twain said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” In other words, get the most important things done first. On the other hand, some people prefer to tick off smaller tasks quickly – if this is you, don’t forget that you still have that frog to eat! Don’t wait until it is too late!
Remember why you have a task list
Your to-do list isn’t simply a list of tasks to get done. It’s there to give your brain a break and remind you of the important things that will speed you towards your goals. In your planning sessions, take a few moments to reflect on what you achieved today, yesterday, last week, and this week so far. Avoid creating an endless daily to-do list. Doing so will only serve to demoralise. By having a shorter, higher-quality list, you will achieve more, and be happier.
Do these things and stick to the 12 to-do list techniques above, and you will soon realise the power of using to-do lists effectively.
To boost your productivity, contact me today. Together, we’ll develop a plan to help you achieve more and be better than ever.