I would guess that most people, especially those in the business world, use tasks lists to prioritize and organize what they need to accomplish. Task lists can be a great tool. They give you a sense of control over your work day and help make your workload appear more manageable. That said, when task lists are executed in the wrong way, they can make you feel like you want to crawl under your desk and cry.
Long tasks list can be really overwhelming and actually hinder productivity.
Here are some tips to create a task list that will help you be more productive
1. Start with Priorities for the Week
On Monday morning, or even worse, Sunday night, nothing sucks more than thinking about all the different projects you have to finish that week. It can seem really overwhelming. Luckily, this first step will help ease that anxiety and get you on track for a more productive work week.
The most important first step in creating an effective task list is to identify and set your priorities. This is often the hardest part. I go about this by first, looking at my week as a whole. I write out all the high level projects that I have to accomplish. I scatter them throughout my week based on three things: deadline, effort, and impact. Based on the estimated effort (time and energy) needed, I can figure out when I need to start that project to meet the deadline. If I have two projects with similar effort and deadlines, I prioritize the project that will have a bigger impact. Impact can mean a lot of things. Maybe it's the project that your boss is really excited to see. Maybe it's the task that is more likely to result in sales. Maybe it's a project for a really important client.
It's also important to think about how one day's tasks can impact the next day. Let's say it's Monday. If I know I have a bunch of meetings on Tuesday, I'm going to have to complete items that have a Wednesday morning deadline on Monday.
2. Set Daily Goals
After getting a general outline of my week, I begin to create a daily task list that consists of more specific tasks; again, using deadline, effort and impact to determine my highest priorities. Always start with three top priorities for the day. It's okay to have a daily task list that consists of more than three tasks, but research shows that really long daily tasks lists can make you feel overwhelmed and overworked, which leads to less productivity. When you have a long task list, you're more likely to bounce around from task to task, rather than focusing on one task and completing it. An effective task list allows you to end each day with several items crossed out, rather than a bunch of things started and nothing finished.
3. Do the Hard Stuff First
Experts generally recommend that you should start your day with the hardest task. People tend to have more energy early in the day and its' good to get the task your dreading out of the way so that it's not hovering over you while you complete other tasks. Behavioral scientists have discovered that stacking the painful parts of an experience early on, can make the the overall experience more enjoyable. It basically follows the age old saying of 'end on a good note.' So, even if you have to start your day on a less than good note, you have the whole day to turn it around.
4. Build in 'Closing Time'
It's inevitable that priorities will shift during the week when new tasks come up and old tasks become less important. A strong task list needs to be flexible and the best way to do that is to build in some time at the end of each day to reorganize and re-prioritize your tasks based on any changes. This is a good activity to do around 'closing time' each day. Rather than leaving work with anxiety about how you're going to fit all the new work into your schedule, it's good to sit and plot those new tasks in based on their deadlines, effort and impact.
5. Hold Yourself Accountable
Tasks lists aren't going to magically make you more productive. Once you set something as a priority, you need to focus on completing that task. A good way to focus on a single task is to have that task visible on your desktop, rather than an online task list. It's easier to stay on track when the single task you should be focusing on is staring you in the face. Once you complete that task, give yourself credit by crossing it off your task list. Replace it with your next highest priority on your desk.
On the other hand, if you don't get to all of your tasks for the day, don't be too hard on yourself. We all have days that are more productive than others. We all have things that come up that are out of our control. This is where the the 'closing time' activity comes into play. Accept that you didn't achieve all your goals for the day, and that you can make up for it by being more productive the next day.
Task lists are a great tool that some of the most successful people in the world rely on. But you have to take responsibility for reaching your goals, and if you set your task list up correctly, they should be easier to achieve.