Business & Strategy

Revealed: The secret to making effective to-do lists

It’s more than just jotting down things on a piece of paper. It can help you improve productivity and get rid of stress

Sapience Analytics
Updated: Jan 4, 2017 12:16:42 PM UTC

Sapience Analytics, founded in 2009, has developed a patent‐pending software product that helps build a Mindful EnterpriseTM, and thereby ensures that employees and teams can achieve significant productivity improvement coupled with greater work-life harmony. The software aims to achieve more at work with reduced stress by adopting mindful work techniques. Sapience was named last month as a Gartner Cool Vendor in Content and Social Analytics, and is the recipient of several industry awards for its innovation and fast growth, including TiE50 (at TiEcon, Silicon Valley, California – 2014), Frost & Sullivan (Product Innovation - 2014), Dun & Bradstreet (Best Emerging India SME – 2013), NASSCOM (India’s Top 10 – 2013), IDG Channel World (50 Hot Global Companies - 2013), iSPIRT (InTech50 – 2015 and 2014) and Red Herring (Asia Top 100 tech start-up - 2011).

Begin each work day by writing down your tasks for the day and work your way through them. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why do some people seem to breeze through their day, finishing all their tasks, and still have time left to live life? Why is it that they give the impression of always being in control, never getting bogged down by work? And why do they achieve so much more during the day, while you seem to struggle, all day long, all week long?

Is there a personal task management secret that no one is telling you? Actually, there is. And we’ll be more than happy to share it with you.

Every single individual who is more productive is simply more aware and mindful of what needs to be done – workwise and timewise – and gets it done. That’s all there is to it.

But there’s a method to this simple strategy – to-do lists. Knowing what needs to be done and seeing it there in front of you, as a list, are two different things. Begin each work day by writing down your tasks for the day and work your way through them. Any efficient individual will tell you that a to-do list is among the best personal productivity tools.

Making a to-do list is more than just jotting down items on a piece of paper. Read through the next few points to learn how to make foolproof to-do lists.

Projects versus tasks A task is smaller and something you can act on. A project, on the other hand, is a collection of many tasks. Your to-do list must have actionable tasks and not projects. For instance, don’t write ‘Tidy up the house’. Instead, say ‘Clear bedside table. Fold and put away washed clothes’, etc.

Vague items on the to-do lists lead to procrastination.

Everything might need to be done today, but everything can’t be done at the same time. Pick and choose your items with care, and organise them based on the importance and date by when those need to be completed. This way you can get all the essential tasks done first.

Be elaborate
Imagine if you were making this list for someone else. Be clear with your instructions. Use actionable verbs and be as specific as possible. The earlier example of ‘tidying the house’ versus ‘clearing the bedside table’ is how your list should be.

Be realistic
Don’t put everything that needs to be done in one list. Keep your list down to 5 items – three main things and two smaller tasks. It keeps the pressure off and you will be mindful of what remains, even if you need to switch priorities.

Keep updating the list
There is no greater satisfaction than crossing out an item from your to-do list. And there is also no greater tension than seeing unfinished jobs. Keep revisiting your list, re-prioritising and redoing your list to stay on track.

Making lists is an effective way of self-assessment for work as well as for home chores.

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