How to smash your to-do list

Was ‘be more productive’ one of your New Year’s resolutions? With a finite number of hours in the day, there’s a limit to how many tasks you can complete – so ticking off priorities and achieving your goals takes focus and a proactive approach. These simple ways to set up your day and manage your tasks will help you smash your to-do list – and make this year your most productive yet.

Do you spend hours ‘busy’ in multi-tasking mode with little to show for it at the end of the day? The key to getting through your to-do list is having one in the first place. While some people rely on their memory, motivation and focus to get things done, research consistently shows that to-do lists drive productivity. How that list is structured varies from person to person. Some of us are borderline obsessive, organising and scheduling every aspect of our lives, while others prefer a more relaxed approach.

Regardless of your style, most experts agree that even the most basic to-do list will help you achieve your important goals. Richard Branson, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group, once wrote that he has always lived his life by making lists. Branson believes that getting things done relies on writing things down, and his lists include ‘to-dos’, ideas, insights, calls he needs to make and plans he’d like to implement.

Here are our top tips on how to smash your to-do lists this year:

  • Prioritise: Writing a to-do list of absolutely everything you’d like to achieve is not productive or helpful. It’s usually just overwhelming. Categorising tasks helps. For example, you might have a home list and a work list, both of which are split into two sub-lists: urgent and non-urgent. The non-urgent list is an ongoing one with stuff that needs to be done but it’s not pressing. The other is tasks that need to be done in the next couple of days. It’s best to start with any items that absolutely must get done today – these are your MITs (most important tasks). Even if you get nothing else done, the MITs will be completed and you can start fresh tomorrow.
  • Be realistic: Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead of brain-dumping a list of everything you need to do and not factoring in how long it actually takes, work out your timeframes. You could block out daily commitments in your diary so you can see at a glance what your day looks like and how much time you’ve got to work with. If that much detail doesn’t appeal, simply look at your to-do list and be sensible about how long each task will take you.
  • Schedule the scheduling: Check emails and write your to-do list first thing (or last thing) every day. It’s important to highlight urgent tasks and then plan your day before you start work. Making time for this means you’re working from a place of intention rather than just reacting to whatever comes up.
  • Leverage your strengths: Know when you’re at your best and take advantage of it. For example, if your energy levels peak in the morning, schedule your complex tasks for then. Some people like to do their ‘hard’ tasks first and save the mundane tasks for low-energy times. Others prefer to clear all the little things first before focusing on the MITs without any mental distractions.
  • Focus: This is one of the most important tips for smashing your to-do list. Instead of multi-tasking your way through the day, focus on one task at a time until it’s complete. Turn your phone off and don’t check emails so you can work uninterrupted. Try this for a day and watch your productivity improve.
  • Systemise what you can: Routines, systems and rules are big productivity boosters. If you have regular tasks, try to complete them consistently. Establish work systems so you don’t have to recreate them every time. Implement rules and document naming conventions so you don’t waste time searching for documents. To pinpoint your biggest time-wasters, track your time for a day or a week to record what you actually do – then eliminate anything that isn’t productive, systemise what you can, delegate appropriate tasks or consolidate tasks that overlap.
  • Deal with distractions: The best way to deal with all those things you suddenly remember while you’re trying to be productive is to write them down on a brain-dump list straight away and then return to the task at hand. Then set aside time to deal with your brain-dump list each day.
  • Switch off: It might feel counter-intuitive these days, but most people don’t need to be contactable 24/7. Turn off your phone and only respond to emails at certain times, so you can work uninterrupted.
  • Learn to say no: This can be difficult in a work situation, but setting realistic deadlines, not over promising and managing expectations is an important part of good time management.
  • Get up earlier: If all else fails and you really don’t have enough time, set your alarm and get up an hour earlier – you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with no one else around!

No matter how busy you are, you don’t have to feel overwhelmed. Rethinking your approach to your to-do list is key to achieving your goals. Try implementing some (or all) of these tips and see if they help you smash that to-do list. Make this year your most productive yet!

Do you feel like you spend too much time working through your never-ending to-do list and not enough on building your career? If you’ve been struggling to find time to get your career on track, an expert Career Coach can help. Or maybe you know your next step but you need help developing a tailored Job Search Strategy to secure your future? To find out more, read about our services.

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