How to feel productive every day with a to-do list done right

Craft To-do lists to increase productivity

With limited time on hand, we all strive to juggle the ever-growing list of things to do. However, our life is more than deadlines and reminders. It’s full of aspirations. In this post, I will walk you through examples of how I use the to-do list methodology to be in the driver’s seat and shape my day to day such that I drive myself towards my short term and long term goals while shielding myself from distractions.

We all have aspirations at work and beyond. We often overlook or stall it. To make those aspirations meaningful and achievable, we need to manage them well. Competing tasks and sources of distractions make it more complicated.

The concept of checklists has been there forever, and people often question their efficacy. Years ago, I designed a model and continued to improvise on it over time. I feel that it’s in a sustainable state now and is influencing my lifestyle for good. 

That’s why I decided to share it with you all so you could benefit from it. 

You might think the magic is on the commitment front and based on how diligently you follow it or cross it off. Be ready to get surprised, and hopefully delighted, too. The truth is that crafting to-do list the right way is more than half the battle won!  

I have been using this methodology for more than five years now. I have seen tremendous improvement in my productivity from these little tricks and small pivots.  

Are you hoping to make your work life fruitful or eager to run a side hustle? Alright, let’s talk to-do list

At first, you might think of it as a time management tool. But, remember it’s much more than a typical checklist or a calendar. If crafted right, to-do list lets you focus and manage your priorities, which is, if not far more, as challenging than doing the actual work itself. I feel it has helped me increase my sense of satisfaction and my happiness. 

Try it out for yourself and see how you could achieve much more in the same amount of time. 

Here are the techniques for you to make it actionable and test out this to-do list methodology for yourself. 

Think big 

Make sure your to-do lists are not just a “bunch of stuff”! I recommend creating a separate list for different categories. Make sure your to-do lists are not just a “bunch of stuff”! I recommend creating a distinct list characterized by categories. For instance, all of your long term, short term, and weekend goals deserve their own space to breathe and translate into deliverables. They should be synergistic but not mixed up. It’s important not to let the trivial stuff overshadow the non-trivial ones. Conquer the things that matter, first, and then the follow-up items to keep the lights on. Keep in mind there’s not much to vex if you leave out or put off a few mundane things.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

For purposeful progress, identify and then tag the ONE thing per day that you believe will move the needle. These things need thinking and energy. Deciding the ONE thing strengthens your perspective, and executing it adds dimension to your most important tasks leading up to your monthly, quarterly, or yearly goals. 

Try not overwhelming yourself with due dates that you set to hold yourself accountable. Make sure your self-imposed due dates are reasonable. For critical tasks, create separate line items for soft and hard deadlines.

Pro tip: The right nesting of lists, tasks, and sub-tasks is important. Do you often see it getting buried within the main task? Focus on attributing the timeline of subtasks better so you can track and strike those off as per the final due dates.  

Work-life balance – mythical or workable 

Personal development, self-care, family time, and career growth need a fair share of attention. Yes, we can’t have it all. We can surely optimize what we choose to do and how we choose to do it. I strongly recommend keeping the goals from all the spheres integrated because we manage priorities and make choices throughout the day based on the finite amount of time available to us. 

Earlier I used to run through Google Keep a lot—great app, but or me, it works better as sticky notes or instant temporary checklist for quick referencing.  For example, noting down a quick suggestion from someone or creating a grocery list right before shopping. However, it was not dynamic enough for aiming at aspirational progress. Mundane, incremental accomplishments can only take you so far. So now I use this app only for freestyle quick note-taking or checklist—they’re my digital Post Its. More about it later.  

What’s in the name they say

Yes, sometimes, names matter! You could keep the to-do lists and tasks short, specific, inspirational, and timeline-driven. This way, the description would give you a head start by letting you paint a quick and a clear picture of it in your mind. You wouldn’t be wasting time, staring at the lists, wondering where and how to start. I would recommend keeping the language aspirational, so it inspires you and gets you excited. 

Example 1 

Just another list name 

Potential projects  

A purposeful list name that drives you

Projects that counts 

Example 2

Just another line item 

Create a brief B for project P

A specific item that gives you direction, and in some cases, motivation

Create a final version of the brief B of project P to get approval by the due date D to increase results R 

Do you see how a small change makes it so much purposeful? Of course, there can be follow up or quick items that might not need this level of detail.  

Treat it like your home

Just like you organize and remove clutter in your home, you’ll have to rise above the noise to get closer to your goals through the to-do lists. Resist the temptation to cross off items. Instead, drag the priorities up or down the list to pivot your game plan. 

Managing time is about the choices you make, and priorities help you decide what those choices are. Reshuffle weekly and feel free to move things to “on hold” and update deadlines. That’s perfectly ok. It doesn’t mean the to-do process is not working out for you. 

Always keep a synced version on your mobile app so you can update anytime and from anywhere. If you scribbled on a Post-it or note pad, log it in as soon as you can.

Let the tools help you 

No matter which app you choose to manage your to-do lists, make sure you churn out all the benefits of the tools that your chosen app provides. I have been using Wunderlist for years now. Recently, they got rolled up under Microsoft To-Do List. For the sake of explaining, I will use this app as an example to guide you to make the most out of your to-do lists. 

-Use consolidated views like “My Day”, “Important”, and “Planned” to help you make progress in every sphere of your life

-Easily drag and drop for sorting and moving around your items

-Quickly set up due dates and reminders without actually typing it in 

-Tag tasks as repeatable 

-Add the next steps, quick notes, and files relevant to the tasks to save time referencing those items 

I have been following all of the above, and these techniques have shot up my productivity level. I hope you’re motivated to arm yourself with these handy techniques. 

If you would like to quickly get started to see how this might work out for you, here’s a free template within the Microsoft To-Do List app for you to test out. This app is for individuals and is free to use. You can always start from blank or customize this template to suit your needs once you start seeing small wins. 

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