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Almost everyone uses to-do lists. They are a big part of the productivity process and it is not unusual to start the workday by creating or checking our list.
Of course, there are many ways to create and manage a list, and many techniques to make sure you get to the bottom of it.
Here, we will focus on the one principle that allows me to always keep my list under control and turn it into a useful, friendly tool instead of a source of anxiety.
Figure Out What Works For You
Identifying the most useful form for your list is the crucial first step.
You could, for example, use a traditional piece of paper and give it a personal twist. I have seen people writing their list exclusively on three-by-five index cards. That way, they know that if something does not fit on the card, it is either too complicated or is not a task in the first place, and it needs to be re-evaluated before joining the other tasks.
Nowadays, many of us, of course, use productivity apps such as Todoist and Focuster. They all have different features that work for different people, but the main idea is the same as the piece of paper – taking the list out of your head and transferring it onto something external so that it is easy to understand and hard to forget. I certainly have my recommendations in terms of apps – and you read them here – but I will not focus on that today.
You Are In Control
As I have mentioned a few times before, carrying out a daily review will help you keep your to-do list under control. Each day before starting work, dedicate some time to go through your tasks. You can triage them, deciding what has the priority, what needs to be rescheduled, and what can be regrouped with similar tasks. You can also work out that some tasks no longer need to be performed because your priorities have changed… which is great news! Delete them and move on.
A daily review will also allow you to delegate some work. Once you realize that you can hand your responsibilities over to someone else, you can contact your employees, colleagues, or partners and ask them to do them for you. This will help them to plan their day and save yourself time. If you are using an app, all this can be done virtually and inside the app itself.
The main principle behind each of your to-do list management activities should be to never lose control. Workflow, framework, and daily routine really work towards this. Setting up a daily review and regularly checking and re-prioritizing your list will prevent it from becoming insanely long.
Lists with hundreds of items are essentially useless, because there is so much to do that the tasks and their order have become meaningless. Instead, you want to make sure your list is neat and short, and that you have a clear idea of why a certain task is at its top or bottom.
Of course, there are many more layers to this, and we could go much deeper in terms of list management. But it is already a great start to know that lists are not only made to dump anything in them and that they need regular maintenance instead to become the powerful tool and helpful assistant they should be.