The to-do list.
Most of us know what this is but for those who do not, the to-do list is basically a list of things you wish to do or hope to accomplish.
For most students, this list is usually populated by tasks like finishing homework for various subjects, preparing for a test and completing projects. For adults, the list might be full of tasks related to work or tasks to be done at home such as chores or maintenance works to keep the household up and running.
In one way or another, all of us keep to-do lists in various forms whether it is in the form of shopping lists we bring along when we go shopping or the list of things we write down in our daily planners or sticky notes.
Or it might even be the digital memo you place on your phone’s home screen to remind you to do certain tasks. So, yes, to-do lists are an integral part of our daily lives.
But, the problem is most of us can’t seem to fulfill our to-do lists. At the end of the day, when we get home and we’re ready to go to bed and we review our lists, we find that we have not fulfilled many of the tasks or jobs that we had set for ourselves on our to-do lists.
We feel overwhelmed by the enormous burden of the unfinished work that we did not complete. We feel guilty for not being able to complete our to-do lists. Or we feel uneasy about the fact that we have uncompleted tasks that we have to do the following day. WHY? Why do we feel this way despite using to-do lists? Isn’t this method supposed to work?
We feel overwhelmed by the enormous burden of the unfinished work that we did not complete. We feel guilty for not being able to complete our to-do lists. Or we feel uneasy about the fact that we have uncompleted tasks that we have to do the following day.
Why do we feel this way despite using to-do lists?
Isn’t this method supposed to work?
Today, I would like to suggest that this problem arises because we have not learned to master the art of using to-do lists. Here are 3 ways which I have found to be very effective in using to-do lists to get things done in my everyday life.
Here are 3 ways which I have found to be very effective in using to-do lists to get things done in my everyday life.
There are 101 things that we can do every day such as washing dishes, feeding pets, doing homework, and playing video games just to name a few. But, the key to using to-do lists is to prioritize. A to-do list’s function is to help you focus on tasks that need to be done.
This means that at the start of each day, study or work session, you should prioritize what tasks appear on your to-do lists. Arrange tasks on your lists in decreasing order of urgency. This means that the tasks that need to be completed in the shortest time periods go to the top of the list followed by tasks with a longer deadline. Therefore, when going about completing tasks on your to-do lists, always start from the tasks at the top. This prevents you from doing the 101 other seemingly “important” tasks and then realizing at the last minute that you have to complete a task that is due the next day.
Therefore, when going about completing tasks on your to-do lists, always start from the tasks at the top. This prevents you from doing the 101 other seemingly “important” tasks and then realizing at the last minute that you have to complete a task that is due the next day.
PRO TIP: I strongly suggest limiting the number of tasks on your to-do list to a number between 3 and 5. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, paralyzed and helpless when you see 20 tasks on your to-do list at the start of your day or study session.
So, keep your to-do list to a maximum number of 5 tasks. This helps you to get started working on the tasks easier and ensures you feel more satisfied after completing a task. So, where do all the other 101 things that you have to do go to? Well, they could go on another list called a “Things to Be Done” list or any other name you prefer.
When you finish the tasks on your to-do list, just go to the “Things to Be Done” List for a refill 🙂
Another reason why many of us procrastinate from working on tasks on our to-do lists is because the tasks are sometimes too loosely defined.
What I mean is by this is that a task of completing a physics lab report can sometimes appear as just the word “PHYSICS” on our lists. Or our various pieces of homework will just be labeled as “HOMEWORK”.
And this is dangerous as not only can we forget what we had wanted to do when we read those labels but we can actually leave certain things out such as a certain piece of homework.
Therefore, we should be more specific about the tasks on our to-do lists. Define clearly and write down what needs to be done on your to-do list. For example, “complete physics lab report about diffraction of waves”. Doing this ensures you know exactly what you have to do when you go about completing tasks on your to-do list.
PRO TIP: Use verbs to define tasks on your to-do list. Verbs speak about actions and this forms better images in our minds of what needs to be done for a certain task. Use verbs such as “revise, review, complete, do, exercise, write, and prepare”. This will ultimately help you to do tasks without much hesitation and thought about what needs to be done.
It is easy to write tasks that need to be done on your to-do list and then to just leave them sitting there. Undone and incomplete. Ignored and forgotten. Therefore, it is wise to schedule or plan out how you are going to go about completing the tasks on your to-do list.
As Michael Hyatt says, “what gets scheduled, is what gets done”
What planning your tasks means is not for you to come up with a daily timetable of what you’re going to do at what hour, minute or second. That’s old school and outdated. That just makes you hate completing tasks or doing work because you’re always working against time.
You never really decide what you want to do at what time. And I’m not a big fan of that. I’m someone who thinks that everyone should learn how to work with time and not against it. I believe that we do better when we see time as a resource and an ally in doing work and studying instead of as an enemy.
So, how do we use time as our friend and resource in planning the tasks we are putting on our to-do lists? Simple, we plan how much work and focus it would take to complete a task. Or simply put, we plan how many Pomodoros it would take for us to complete a task. Or how many tasks we can complete in a Pomodoro. So, for example, my to-do lists could look something like this:
- Complete Physics Lab Report about Diffraction of Waves (2 Pomodoros)
- Prepare for Maths Test about Differentiation (1 Pomodoro)
- Write a blog post (2 Pomodoros)
When you plan out your tasks, it’s easier to plan out when you are going to do them and how you can expect your day to go.
This includes both times for work and time for play. YAYYY 😀
PRO TIP: Learn how to use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused while completing tasks by clicking here.
In conclusion, I hope that you start using these 3 methods to improve the way you use to-do lists in your daily life. I hope that you will be able to get more things done and have time for family and leisure. Stay productive!
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Da Ruey is a recent SPM graduate who is currently pursuing International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. He loves writing, reading, soccer and football freestyle which is a relatively new sport in Malaysia.
Original article published here.