6 ways to ensure your TO-DO list actually work for you
SImply put, To-DO list is a good garbage bin for the brain. Once outpoured they releases the brain from hard task of memory retention. In a way it is good, so that one focuses on the creative aspect of the day. But on other hand, it chokes the TO-DO list. Once the list grows in size it start demanding extra attention in organising and prioritising. These over-grown list require managerial expertise in ensuring their logical completion.
Follow my 6 ways to get back your TO-DO List under control. By following these 6 advise, your TO-DO List will start working like an AI Engine for you. Your TO-DO List will never be boring again.
Many TO-DO List Guru’s and apps teaches us shifting tasks from Inbox to Projects, assigning priority, tagging them with relevant context, putting a flag, placing them in folders, putting sub-tasks for its breakup, and most importantly giving a deadline. All the above managerial skills are tough to phantom and not worthwhile to venture when all you need the TO-DO list is to remind you at right time. I’m sure in times to come, the AI Engine would definitely improve the TO-DO Lists to trigger in more relevant time and context. But till AI has not taken over, here are the following things one can do to keep making sense out of TO-DO Lists.
Plan your next day a night before
Keep this mantra up in the sleeves. Mornings are the time when you can perform to finish tasks, don’t waste it in planning them. Secondly, once you make a plan a night before, you feel under control and energetic for the next day. A planned approach actually triggers brain to prepare for the next day too.
Arrange the Day’s Task by doing Day walk
Often the task for the day are arranged date-wise. This does not bring control to the tasks as hand, especially if the numbers are large for that day. I frequently arrange them on the basis of probable occuring. Here is my Illustrative list..
My Days Task
- Finish my Course assignment (Personal)
The first thing to do in the morning
- Write Second chapter of my blog (Personal)
This is second task usually before the breakfast
- Purchase the Hanger (Personal)
This also before the breakfast, but after I have finished my assignment and blog
- Brainstorming on the topic ‘_____’ (Office)
This is the first task when I reach to office.
- Stand-Up meeting for today’s briefing (Office)
The first regular schedule usually need to be chipped in between. This is important regular task and set the tone for the days work. This is here I prefer to assign and delegate the tasks to the team.
- Process the ‘____’ file (Office)
These are important work which need to be done before the lunch hour. This time is also left open for any un-scheduled tasks and urgent meetings.
- Talk to ‘____’. (Personal / Official)
This is the time around lunch time. This helps to connect with the world and get to know the bigger picture.
- Meet ‘_____’ for the ‘___Topic___’ (Official)
These are the scheduled meetings, usually kept post lunch time. Once this time is slotted, you can use the calendar to give various appointments only during these times.
- Process the file / matter ‘___’ (Official)
This is evening tea time work. And these are again inter spread with the regular and routine work of the day. But one important Pre-scheduled task can be chipped-in.
- De-briefing meeting for days work (Official)
This is usually time for evening end of the day. All the work completed are ticked, major issues for the next day planned. This also is the time for team meetings too for de-briefing.
- Purchase ‘____’ grocery
These are the items which I need to carry home. These tasks are therefore kept while going home.
- Discuss ‘____’ Matter (Personal)
These are the items which generally I need to discuss with my family.
As one can see the tasks above are arranged on the basis of causality and is not very specific to any time. Hope the above helps you in arranging the tasks for the day which actually works.
Keep the task specific
When I am unable to complete a task, I often ponder and re-visit the task with a very different angle.
Was it a Task in first place, is my first question.
What I have found out is that the task which I am unable to achieve for any reason, is not the capillary but an artery. Such task are found to be composed of multiple sub tasks and therefore the task stagnate. They are actually Projects or at best A Task dependent on many smaller tasks.
The first thing I do is to find out the capillary task i.e. the distal task and accomplish that first. Sometimes, one keep Project as a Task and that means it will never end. Therefore, whenever you write down your task, keep make sure it is a capillary task and which is specific and measurable.
For example, I wanted to write a blog on this topic. So I kept the task as ‘Write a blog on ‘6 ways to ensure your TO-DO list actually work for you’. That was making it an artery task than a capillary task. So my days task was revisited and then written like this:
- Write a chapter on Orphan Task
- Make a creative for the blog post
- Do the research on Weekly review importance
This way, I was able to finish my Project of writing this blog (artery) by making it smaller and measurable tasks (Capillary).
Create a ‘Orphan Task’ filter
If you are using apps such as ‘Todoist‘ or ‘Omnifocus‘, you can easily create a filter with a criterion of task which are without due date, are un-assigned, have no tags, have no priority, and has no flag. These are the real problem tasks which fills up your bucket fast and leave very narrow margin on which you operate your tasks. In fact navigating these tasks itself is very difficult.
The best way is to take them head-on one at a time. Keeping them as remote focus is vital for ensuring their retrieval and eventually completion. Go ahead and create ‘Orphan Task’ Filter. Thereafter review each one of them. The target should be to ensure zero orphan tasks. Take out time especially during weekend to review. Always remember that once you are reviewing, the concept it to give them some marker, be it flag, due date, project, tag, priority e.t.c. so that it props up at the right time, someday and you do not have any orphan tasks.
Conduct a weekly review drill of TO-DO List
This is yet another important work for any TO-DO list. Every weekend, review all your task whether they are Orphan or otherwise and put them in right perspective. Maybe they are already done. Tick them off. While you are reviewing them, you might get newer ideas on achieving them, get to know the laggard tasks and finally plan for the next week / month.
Here is what to be done while conducting weekly review of tasks
- Tick off the completed task
- Convert Artery tasks to measurable Capillary tasks
- Visit each task anywhere in your system and get picture of whether they are relevant or not. You might want to delete few tasks
- Visit overdue task and ensure you give the correct timelines
- Move the task from General List to Specific Projects, Assignments and assign tags (contexts to them)
- Most importantly, plan your next week.
I’m sure in the coming year, AI (Artificial Intelligence) will take over our task management to remind us of them at the right time without the manual reviews. But till the time AI takes over, gear up to do the manual AI work. This one thing is super important if you want to keep making sense out of your To-DO List.
Celebrate your Completion
How often I enter the new day without reflecting upon what all I achieved today. The more I re-visit the task accomplished, the better is my energy level and this sense of accomplishment lays the foundation stone for my next day. I use a filter in my task application for the task completed today, week and in the past month. This also helps Government Officers in filling up their Annual Performance Appraisal Reports.
At the end remember these quotes
Plan at night, execute in the morning.
Your tasks should follow your days work
Projects are artery, tasks are capillary. Keep the tasks specific and measurable.
Orphan tasks like the free radicals, are unstable atoms with a potential of damaging the TO-DO List
Weekly review of To-DO List is an AI engine, you must invest in
Success comes to those who measure Success.
The above article is based on my personal experience in using and managing TO-DO Lists from past 19 years.