Admit it: You love a good to-do list. There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting things done. And lets face it; you have a whole lot to conquer in your quest for world domination and no time to waste.
If you are like me, checking things off your to-do list is the very sweetest victory of all. I actually print my to-do lists so I can quite literally cross things off. Seriously.
Your list makes you the very definition of efficiency. You are on fire with effectiveness thanks to your list, right? Or not so much?
Perhaps you are honestly overwhelmed and at times, a bit down about all of the things on your list that remain undone at the end of each day. By the way, that nagging feeling that remains when tasks are incomplete is the psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect.
Maybe you are frustrated about your inability to complete everything you want and need to do.
There are 4 mistakes that you are likely making as you create (and use) your to-do list that keep you from being the productive rock star you are destined to be:
1) Your list is too long.
Yes, you have too much going on. Sometimes our to-do lists just turn into a litany of things that we’d like to achieve during our lifetime. Complete expense report. Book a dental appointment. Repaint living room. Solve world hunger. Boil the ocean. You see where I’m going here.
Our lists are often well-intentioned, but fail to reflect what we can reasonably do in a given day. Procrastination researcher Dr. Tim Pychyl suggests that writing down everything that we want to do gives us a feeling of success. This is not, however, the same as getting the tasks on our list done.
The Solution: Create a shorter list with no more than 3-5 items framed in the context of larger goals. Yes, you read that correctly… 3-5 items. You can create a secondary list with more tactical tasks that you need to finish for tracking purposes. Break a single task into sub-items (and focus solely on that for the day) if needed.
2) Your list isn’t prioritized.
The items on your list may not truly be important or urgent enough to merit time and attention today. If you don’t know what your priorities are at any given moment, you risk leaving essential tasks incomplete to serve the needs of others or to invest in less critical tasks.
The Solution: Prioritize your tasks so you can invest your time on what matters most right now. You can move on to less important items once the heavy hitters are finished. Consider writing your list out and taking a pass to prioritize the night before so you can hit the ground running the next day.
3) Your list isn’t actionable.
The list you create may not be achievable because it focuses on what David Allen, creator of the “Getting Things Done” productivity method, describes as broader projects instead of clear tasks. A vague entry (e.g. “Report”) on your list is much less meaningful than an item with more clarity (e.g. “Review financial data from 4Q14 and create appendix A in summary document”).
The Solution: Write specific, action-oriented tasks that render what you need to do explicit. Avoid adding vague, meaningless entries to your list.
4) Your list isn’t realistic.
Even if you have the most important items on your daily short list, you won’t likely be in a position to finish if each task takes 5-6 hours. The key to completing your list each day is to be practical about what you can and can’t do during the time available to you.
The Solution: Create rough time estimates for the prioritized tasks on your list to make sure that what you are undertaking is doable. There are no awards for precision in this case, so a high level guesstimate will do. Over time, you’ll refine your ability to anticipate your requirements for various tasks.
The fixes for these issues are all pretty straightforward; it is just a small matter of execution. Famous last words, right?
Engineer Your Bliss Challenge: Make your to-do list brief, prioritized, actionable and realistic.
Which of these mistakes do you make with your to do list on a regular basis? Please share your comments below.
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