Here’s How To Crush A To-do List

Everyone has their tricks for productivity, but like any new habit you’re trying to form, sometimes it just doesn’t stick.

Creating a reliable productivity system that keeps you motivated is easy, but it gets old. Eventually, you drop it and try yet another system.

Some people swear by writing in planners. I’ve never been a planner person. I keep up with it for a week and then forget about it. No matter how cute the planner was, it never stuck.

In my past life as an assistant, I used to keep everything on a list right in front of my face. When I received a new task or project, I wrote it down immediately. Tasks only got crossed off when completed. But, this process didn’t help me get the less urgent stuff done. I found myself rewriting “call the travel agent for itemized receipt” for two months until I actually did it.

Lists don’t beat procrastination. They’re good for keeping track of everything you have to do, but they don’t guarantee it will all get done.

After years of experimentation, I’ve found a method that works.

My system is two-fold, and it starts with the simple to-do list. I keep a work to-do list and a life to-do list in Evernote. I like Evernote because it also has a mobile app, but even a Google doc would do. You just need access to it on different devices.

Looking at my list, I can easily separate the time sensitive stuff from the rest.

Then comes the fun part. I look at my to-do list and create a checklist in Evernote. Normally, I do this at the end of my workday and sometimes in the morning.

It’s not just any checklist, though. I set deadlines for every task.

This is what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 10.47.37 PM

At the bottom, I add a couple of tasks that are less urgent from my master to-do list. I like to tackle a few a day.

To-do lists never end. That’s life. But if you consistently take care of one or two things on it a day, it’s much less overwhelming. Getting stuff done feels good.

Even calling the insurance company can be pleasurable when it’s one less thing to do on your list.

Knowing how you work and being realistic about allotting time for individual tasks is crucial.

I know it takes me an hour and a half to finish, proofread and polish an article. I know that when I’m working on a big project, I’ll need at least three hours of my day.

Of things come up, and adjustments are necessary. I keep my list up in a tab all day long.

How does having this schedule motivate me? Setting time limits and switching up tasks during the day makes me want to stick to it. I’m essentially giving myself deadlines because I have the type of job where most of my work isn’t project based.

Since I’m competitive and love time limits, I’m basically tricking myself into getting things done “on time.”

No matter what you struggle with regarding getting shit done, having deadlines helps you complete them. I developed this method after reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferris. This is what stuck with me:

“The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.”

Knowing I have two hours to complete something makes me procrastinate by looking at Facebook and Twitter much less. And if my attention wanders over to social media during work, checking the time is enough of a reminder that I have a deadline for everything.

After doing this for a while, I’m able to time myself correctly and get everything done. And checking those little boxes in Evernote is hella satisfying.

Getting stuff done means something different for everyone, but when you’re drowning in to-do list items, maybe it’s time to explore a new method.


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