Are you feeling overwhelmed by your workload? Do you get to the end of a stressful day and wonder where your time has gone? If so, the humble to-do list could probably help you avoid stress and improve your personal performance.
So, what’s the best way to manage your to-do list at work? To-do lists are very popular, and many people swear by them. Admittedly, ticking things off the list can feel good, making it a great motivation tool to stay on track.
But most of us are unable to complete all the tasks on our list by the end of the average workday. So here we discuss why to-do lists fail and how to manage to-do lists to achieve your goals better.
Why to-do lists fail
To succeed, it’s essential to understand why others (and maybe yourself!) have failed to complete to-do lists. Here are some of the top reasons why we never seem to finish our to-do lists:
- Too many to-do’s – The most common reason is, that most to-do lists simply have way too many items, which means they will never get completed.
- Too much time – The more time you give yourself to complete something, the less likely you’ll finish it. Having deadlines reduces procrastination, so setting smaller tasks with shorter timeframes is much better than one large task with a long timeframe.
- Too many unknowns – Priorities change, so our to-do lists are constantly changing – and these include all the small, unplanned interruptions that pop up and take away our focus.
If you’ve been struggling with your to-do list, you’re not alone. Below are our best strategies for managing your to-do list to make the most of each day.
Tip #1 – Consolidate your list
This may seem obvious but having a single to-do list for your tasks makes it much easier to keep track. Still, many of us don’t have a single “home” for our to-do’s. You probably have a few post-its, flags in your email, dot points in your notebook, and maybe notes on a phone app.
Choose whatever system suits you better, whether it’s the task list in your email system, an app on your smartphone or even pen and paper if preferred – and consolidate your to-do list. Whatever format you choose, make sure that you can easily add to your list, such as during meetings or away from the office. The important is that you can jot things down whenever they pop up, so you don’t have to worry about remembering them later.
Outlook tasks (and the same goes for other email programmes) is a great place to record your to-do’s, as they can easily be synced across devices, so you can access or add to your list on the go. And if you are a Microsoft Teams user, working with Planner will enable you to integrate all your tasks with Outlook by installing the “Tasks by Planner and To Do” app found in Teams.
Tip #2 – Use time-blocking
Now that you’ve consolidated your list, a second basic tip for managing your to-do list is to use time-blocking, as this is a simple way to make sure you manage your time more effectively.
Your most important tasks should get the most time and attention, and time-blocking means that your priorities come first, so others won’t take up your time with less important tasks. Prioritise the most important 1-3 tasks of the day and be realistic about how long you need to complete them. Don’t forget to allow time for unexpected interruptions.
Any task that will take you longer than 15 minutes to complete should go into your calendar, and anything that will take less than 15 minutes should just stay on your task list.
We also recommend batching similar tasks into time blocks, such as returning emails or making calls. This is more efficient as you can avoid switching gears between different activities.
Using deadlines consequently will reduce procrastination, so having a set time for a task means that you’re much more likely to complete it.
When you’re first using time-blocking, it can help to track how long you actually spend on tasks. At the end of the working week, review how accurate your time estimates were. Did you consistently underestimate or overestimate how long things take to finish? If so, adjust your time blocks for the following week. Your estimates will become more accurate with practice.
Tip #3 – Plan the day before
One of the best ways to manage your to-do list at work is to plan the afternoon before. Pick no more than three big tasks for the next day (at least if you want to increase the likelihood of success).
Planning one day ahead saves your precious energy in the morning. You feel prepared and can focus on the most important tasks as soon as you start the workday.
If you’re working remotely the next day, your to-do list might prioritise focussed tasks that require longer, uninterrupted time-blocks. And if you’re working in the office, try adding more collaborative work to make the most of face-to-face time.
Spend 15 minutes the afternoon before to plan ahead. It can be the last thing you do in your workday to wind down, so you don’t spend the evening worrying about your to-do list. Start your day to day planning the day before and see how it will improve your productivity.
Tip #4 – Build in buffers
A great tip for success is to keep your to-do list realistic and achievable. Here’s where buffers come in.
We all experience unexpected tasks coming in and needing our attention. Make space for this by setting a due date earlier than when your task is actually due, so it doesn’t become urgent or last-minute. This will help you avoid stress when unexpected things invariably come up.
Also always try to build in buffers between your meetings – just 15 minutes to review, make notes, and schedule follow-up actions. It can often be more efficient to do this while the meeting is still fresh in your mind. Some companies have decided to stop all meetings 15 minutes before scheduled. This is a great idea to help make the 15 minutes buffer ambition practical.
Using buffer also means, that you must not forget to build in buffers for breaks throughout your day. Even a quick 5-minute break to rest your eyes and stretch your legs will be good for your productivity. Taking breaks actually helps you stay focused.
Tip #5 – Regular review
If you frequently feel like you can’t get through your list and some of your tasks do not move, it’s time to reassess. Review your to-do list and ask yourself whether everything on the list really needs to be done. You may ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the task helping me to achieve my overall goals?
- Is the task aligned with my top job priorities?
- What will I have when this task is done, and what is the real value?
- If the task definitely needs to be done, can it be delegated?
If you find yourself moving the due date on the same task over and over again, ask yourself if it still needs to be done. Or maybe you’re always putting off the same task because it’s too big and needs to be broken down into smaller tasks.
So regularly review how your to-do list is working and make adjustments where needed.
Ready to give your task management a new life? An effective to-do list is a great productivity tool. It makes your workday more organised and less stressful. And it puts you in charge!
Originally posted by PEPworldwide Australia here on 6 Apr 2021.