We are sometimes overwhelmed and stressed by different tasks that all need to be accomplished. Having a To-Do list and planning ahead has proven to be an effective method of accomplishing the different tasks that burden us, as well as keeping an eye on what we need to do and what we have already done.
Most people who use To-Do lists do not accomplish much because they fail to create an effective list.
An effective To-Do list is made up of specific elements, which changes it from a simple list of tasks to accomplish, into a powerful time management tool.
Following is a list of eleven of the most powerful of these To-Do list elements. By incorporating them into your To-Do list, you will not only work smarter and get all your tasks completed in time, you will also be achieving more with the same, or less effort, in an equal or less, amount of time.
1. Be Realistic
If you are really serious about your To-Do list, then you must be realistic when drawing up the list. You have to take into consideration that there is a limited amount of time available to you each day. This means that you have to wisely allocate your time.
A second issue to consider as well is practicality. Some tasks may simply not be meaningful or even useful in particular situations. For example, you just can't leave an important meeting or class session just to clean out your glove compartment. So be realistic about your tasks when writing them, and you will be better motivated to complete each one.
2. Pareto's Principle
Named after Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, the Pareto Principle states that roughly 80% of effects or results, come from roughly 20% of the causes. This is also known as the law of the vital few and trivial many, or as the 80/20 principle.
When faced with a problem like numerous tasks to accomplish from a To-Do list, the 80/20 principle points to the fact that completing just a few of those tasks, will alleviate most of the burden. This means that just 2 or 3 tasks out of 15 tasks, would have solved most of the problem. In a business setting, the same 2 or 3 tasks could be responsible for the majority of profits.
This principle is proven, so it's left for you to find those most important tasks, and prioritize them.
3. Prune Your List
A further consequence of the Pareto Principle is that most of your problems arise from just one or two sources. In other words, the enormous amount of time you might spend working on a single task from your To-Do list, isn't worth the tiny benefit you'll be getting from that task.
In business settings, it could mean that a small group of problematic customers create most of the customer service problems. If you can, then follow the footsteps of smart businesses and prune your troublemakers. Just cut out those tasks from your To-Do list that aren't worth your time. This will free up your time to focus on the things that really matter.
4. Divide & Conquer
Big tasks can appear challenging or overwhelming at first, and may even prompt you to lose hope in either working on it or in completing it. The solution here is to divide such big tasks into smaller chunks. You could even create a sub-list for that specific task. This helps you to attack a big task inch by inch until it's accomplished.
By keeping track of your progress, you will feel good about what you've accomplished so far, and you'll also be motivated to go ahead and complete it. If it helps you in any way, you can even add specific deadlines to each of the sub-tasks.
5. Parkinson's Law
Parkinson's Law states that:
"A task expands to fill up the time allotted for its completion."
What this means is that time pressure forces you to accomplish a task within the given time.
If you have a month's time to get something done, then it'll be completed in a month. If you are given three months for the same task, then it'll be completed in three months. If for some reason, there is a sudden emergency, and you have only a week to complete that same project, then time pressure will force you to focus and finish it in a week.
What this means for you is that you should add deadlines to each task, and make those deadlines as tight as possible. This stops you from procrastination, and pushes you to find time to complete those tasks, by forcing yourself to work against the clock.
6. Take Action
It doesn't matter what you do, just do something. Take action. Start the journey of a thousand miles with one step. Without action, nothing gets done.
Most successful people are not successful because of their super-knowledge or superior genes, but because they work hard. They get things done. Start taking action today and you too will also see success with your To-Do list.
7. Cross-off Completed Tasks
It's important that you cross-off a task from your list when you are done with it. The reason is psychological. It creates a feeling of accomplishment, which helps in motivating you to take on more tasks.
8. Utilize Small Periods of Time
There are certain periods of the day that you might find yourself with 20 or 30 minutes of free time. You could normally use that time to surf the net, watch some television, or just chill on the couch, but investing it into your To-Do list helps to actually cross tasks off the list.
9. Reward Yourself for Completions
According to psychologists, the subconscious mind could get in your way when it's not in alignment with any of your goals. By rewarding yourself for completed tasks, you will not only feel good about yourself, but you will also be increasing the likelihood of your voluntary engagement in subsequent similar tasks.
This is called operant conditioning from Dr. B. F. Skinner, and the reward you give yourself is called a positive reinforcement. The reward could be anything: watching a movie, going out for a drink, a popcorn, or whatever else it is that floats your boat.
There will always be tasks that you're good at, and those that you suck at. You can delegate those tasks that you find difficult to a friend or family member, maybe in exchange for a favor. In fact if you can afford it, then delegate it to someone and pay for it.
This is very important in business settings where you might earn $100/hr completing certain tasks, but then, you find yourself occupied with minor chores that are worth $10/hr. By simply delegating the $10/hr job, you will not only guarantee its completion, but you'll also be left with enough free time to engage in $100/hr or even $500/hr opportunities.
11. Fuel up!
The body is in a way, a machine. It needs energy to function and sometimes it might not be getting enough. Simply being tired is one of the reasons most people leave their tasks uncompleted.
The solution here is to consume a high energy diet, or to turn to caffeinated drinks like coffee and green tea, which will give you the temporary energy boost that you need. Exercising will also help to maintain a higher metabolic rate, meaning more overall body energy in the long run.
By following these tips, you can be sure of not just completing your To-Do lists, but you will also improve your efficiency. This means that you'll be achieving more with less effort, because you'll be more focused. Although the tips have not been listed in any order of significance, the first six tips are powerful enough to significantly boost your productivity, and the rest of the tips make what's already good, even better.