The perfect, actionable to do list is necessary for productivity, yet so elusive for most of us. Even though we always start with our best intentions in mind, we often end up with more abandoned to do lists than we care to admit.
No doubt, the fact that we’re bad at planning must have something to do with it. But creating a better task list will allow you to be clear with yourself on what your most important tasks are, and what you need to do to achieve your goals.
Limit work in progress
You might be tempted to think that the more things you do at once, the more productive you will be. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Equally important to not multitasking when doing your work, is limiting your work in progress in the planning stages.
Focus on the most important areas of your work and discriminate ruthlessly between the tasks that are important and those that are just busywork. Don’t take on more projects than it is humanly possible to do simultaneously. Where possible, finish one before starting another.
Delegate the tasks that you can
This is one of the most overlooked productivity assets. There will inevitably be some tasks on your list that you can delegate. Now, if you are honest with yourself, you will find those tasks and delegate them in order to free up time for your most important tasks, and to protect your time and energy levels.
When you’re writing down your to do list for the day, find those tasks that you can delegate, and make a note next to it. If you can assign it to someone else, it will help you to focus on your most important tasks - which takes us to the next point.
Isolate your most important tasks
Every day, find your most important tasks in your list. Then get them done before everything else. Of course, there might be urgent things that come up that you will need to do before your most important tasks. But don’t let this become an excuse for not getting the most important tasks done. These are the tasks that will not only make you feel accomplished for getting them done, but will also allow you to inch closer to your goals every day.
Only include actionable tasks
Actionable tasks are the only ones that should be on your task list. Think verbs, not nouns when you’re writing down your to do list. Also break down big overwhelming tasks into smaller ones, things that you can actually get done.
You can have a separate list with ideas of projects or the goals you want to accomplish, but your to do list should only include actions that you can actually start doing as soon as you look over at your list.
Don’t schedule down to the minute
This is tougher to do than it seems, especially if you feel you need to control everything in order to be productive. But when you're making your to do list, try to leave some room for unexpected urgent tasks that will require your attention right away. By leaving some leeway you will be able to get to what's important even when other situations arise.
In the end, creating the best task list is not an exact science. Although there are some general guidelines that will make you more productive, you will eventually find out what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.
Try something for a week to see what feels right for you. Then you can tweak things around and make it work for you and your needs.