After lots of trial & error, I learned how to actually get things checked off your to-do list. Here’s what I’ve learned:
I pride myself on my ability to get stuff done. In fact, I thought I was so good at it that I created a business around it.
When I quit my day and started working for myself full time, I learned what it really meant to “get things done”.
Working from home was challenging. For me, there was just something about going in to an office that instantly made me more productive. Since that wasn’t happening anymore, I had to adjust some things to make working from home more productive. I wrote a post all about that.
Not only did I have to learn to work from home, but learn to be my own boss. It was at that point that I truly had to master checking things off my to do list.
I’ve used a lot of different systems over the years and to be honest my preferences have changed.
I’ve also tried a lot of different tricks to manage my to do list. Some worked and others didn’t. Admittedly I like changing things up regularly. But I realize that reorganizing a to do list doesn’t exactly make me more efficient. The structure and system have to work for MY lifestyle.
Once you’ve created a to do list, see how to actually get things checked off your to-do list.
How to actually get things checked off your to-do list
Re-evaluate your current to-do list
Take a good look at everything that’s on your list. Not to reorganize or reorder but to determine if all the tasks truly need to be on the list. Whether there’s old tasks that aren’t applicable anymore or tasks that just aren’t important to you anymore, remove those items that you no longer need to complete.
While you’re at it, look through the list one more time to see if any tasks could be delegated. Now I’m not talking about pawning off undesirable tasks on to your family or friends.
But if you’re anything like me you’ve got tasks on your list that you either unnecessarily volunteered for or someone else would really be more appropriate to handle.
2 minutes or less
As you’re looking through your list, if you spot any tasks that will likely take 2 minutes or less, stop what you’re doing and tackle those!
Too often jotting down the task and reviewing it every time you open your to do list can take longer than just tackling that quick task immediately.
Breaking Down Tasks
After reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done years ago, I started following his advice to break down projects to multiple small tasks.
For example, when I was decorating Declan’s nursery, I broke down the tasks: find ideas online, take measurements of the room, make a list of furniture I want to purchase, put together crib, paint walls, etc. I even broke down the list further making a list of all the furniture I wanted to buy including a chair, crib, bookshelf, and dresser.
This was a game changer for me. It’s so obvious to me now, but years ago I would find projects lingering on my to do list week after week without any progress. By breaking down the project to smaller tasks, you may have more tasks on your to do list but you’ll more easily be able to chip away at your project faster.
Likely no surprise to see Prioritize as a tip. It’s a no brainer, but it’s also easier said than done.
Life happen, things get busy, work deadlines change.
A common prioritizing method is to label each of your tasks with an A, B, or C (a being the biggest priority). Personally I’ve never been able to sustain this method long term.
Instead, any items I put in to my to do list are a priority if I select a date in which they should be accomplished. I spend 5 minutes at the end of every day reviewing the tasks I have for tomorrow and re-prioritizing as needed.
While this method may seem like a lot of ‘list reviewing’, I find it most efficient and keeps my to-do list from spinning out of control. I live by my to-do list mostly because I know it’s an accurate reflection of what I both want and can feasibly accomplish each day.
For reference, on any given day may only have 1-5 tasks that I must accomplish. Any more and I’ve found that I get overwhelmed and often don’t accomplish any of them.
For items that I would like to accomplish but just aren’t a priority, I tag those in the “later” category without a date. I check this category on a weekly basis to determine if any of these tasks are priority enough to commit to accomplishing next week.
Another method I found effective is to ‘schedule my tasks’ straight in to my calendar. I don’t do this for all tasks, but I do find it effective for ones that I really need to accomplish, need to be done at specific times or require coordination with others.
For example, when I run errands outside our house (last week I needed to return some items to Old Navy) I like to add those to my calendar. Or if I have a work deadline where I need to really focus on a project, I’ll block time in the evenings to get to work.
This isn’t a race, so to speak, but setting a timer as you’re working on a task is an effective way to be ultra-productive. Set a timer for 30 minutes to work on the task at hand. During that time, keep all distractions away: turn off the TV, stay away from Facebook and just work!
Once the timer’s up, you can take a break before getting back to work.