I’m a big fan of the to-do list, even though it might seem super silly or simple. For me though, they are one of the most useful tools. They help my productivity ten-fold and really help me to focus my attentions.
One of the major benefits to the humble to do list is the fact that it stops my brain from feeling like it has too many tabs open at once. I can focus on the task at hand without worrying about trying to remember any of the other things that I need to get done that day. Similarly, if something pops into my head while I’m working, I add it to my to-do list. I know I’ll get round to it and it can stop distracting me from the task itself.
When I read How to be a Productivity Ninja, I realised how important it is to be savvy with your to do list (you can read my review of Allcott’s other book here). You need to keep it realistic. For me, if I know there are a lot of things I need to do soon but not necessarily that day, I’ll write myself a list for the week. Writing 500 words of an essay in an afternoon? Achievable. The whole thing, research and all, in a day? Not so much. Instead, my aim for the week will be to finish the paper and I’ll migrate certain tasks to the day in question. Monday becomes research and planning day, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are writing days and I’ll edit and format it on the Friday. This also works well if I know I’ve got multiple deadlines or lots of commitments to keep in mind. I know I won’t forget it because it’s on the master to-do list but my plan for that day isn’t as overwhelming anymore.
Similarly, I make sure that I prioritise one or two tasks that are the most important. They go right at the top of the list and the things towards the end aren’t as important. I might have to email my professor on Monday morning but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get my laundry done immediately. That way if I don’t get to everything on my list it’s not a problem but I know I’ve got plenty of tasks to keep me busy!
While I know to-do lists aren’t for everyone, for me I find them great if I find I’m getting a little overwhelmed or if I know I really need to knuckle down and be productive. If I have a list to keep me on track, I tend to get more done. I also find it really useful to write my to-do list the night before so that I don’t have a gazillon things racing through my mind while I’m trying to sleep. It’s a big part of turning my brain off for the night and I like knowing what I need to achieve that day from the get go.
Of course, I don’t do that every day and there will be times when a to-do list might not be the most appropriate. For me, it is one of my most used and simplest tools when it comes to being productive.
If nothing else, crossing things off my list is so satisfying!