Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about how I stay productive, specifically asking for tips and tricks that I use to stay on track and get things done.
Here’s a tip that I use (I’m not saying it’s what you should do, it’s just what I do that works for me). It may sound counter-intuitive, but I do not write down a detailed daily to-do list. I used to, but I don’t anymore. Consequently, I’ve been getting more done, and feeling better about myself at the end of the day.
Let me explain:
With a daily to-do list, you spend the night before or the day of listing the things that you want to accomplish. We try to judge how long something will take to complete, so as not to overfill our day and leave us with unfinished jobs on the list.
Unfortunately, no matter how much of an expert you are at estimating the length of time it takes to complete a job, the daily to-do list never gets fully checked off. At least this was the case for me.
I wouldn’t “overbook” myself. No. What normally happened was that there were unforeseen tasks or things that came up during the day that I had to do, which were sometimes more important and time-sensitive than what was on my list. Think of an urgent email that you have to respond to, or an emergency meeting or conference call that you must attend.
Those kinds of things are the ANTI-daily to-do list. What you had originally put on your list gets shoved to the back of the line, and often times you finish the day with an unfinished list and feel like you didn’t accomplish as much as you wanted to, if anything at all.
That’s not good for motivation, that’s for sure.
The solution to my problem is a system I worked out which involves project to-do lists, not daily to-do lists.
The project to-do list is easy to create: just start at the bottom with your end goal (finish project X), and work your way backwards from there. You’ll have a roadmap to completion all written out, and can easily check things off as you go along.
When I work, I simply allocate specific amounts of time “working on project X”, or “working on project Y”, depending on my mood, or what may seem to be more time sensitive. When “working on project X”, I work on the next available task on its own project to-do list, without trying to reach a specific point by the end of the day. I just work on it as much as I can in the time given, and check off parts of the list as I go.
Of course, some tasks are required to be put on a schedule, such as writing blog posts (which should be done consistently), so there will be some things that require you to finish stuff within a certain amount of time, or on a specific date, but I try to keep that to a minimum.
Using this method, I find that I can get much more done. I don’t know whether it’s because I work better because I’m not stressed out about meeting “little deadlines” throughout the day, or because I’m super motivated whenever I check off a task on my project to-do lists, but it works, at least for me!