Managing Your To-Do List

Ironically, there are arguably more books on productivity and more productivity software than anyone would have time to look at over the course of a lifetime: David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out, Marc Lesser’s Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less, and dozens more.

The sheer volume suggests that no single system will work for everyone. After all, different people have different styles and strengths. Try these tips from time-management experts, geared to a few of the more common to-do list troubles.

Constantly worried you’re forgetting something?
Commit to writing everything down in one place. Whether you use a big paper calendar or a digital system like Evernote, the key is to make a habit of getting all your tasks “collected” into your system, says Morgenstern. That can free up more mental space for the tasks themselves. If you have to spend a lot of time driving, try using a smartphone app to convert voice memos into your list.

Almost never finish what’s on your list?
Get real about how much time you have. Start by ruthlessly mapping everything on your list into your calendar, suggests Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. You’re likely to find (no surprise!) that what you’re setting out to accomplish simply isn’t possible in the available time. This forces you to focus on what’s essential and to find ways to prune away what’s not.

To-do list keeping you up at night?
Morgenstern’s system relies on something she calls the four D’s: Delay (find a better time to schedule a task); Diminish (can you invent some shortcuts so certain items take less time?); Delegate (assign an action to someone else); and the all-important Delete (just skip it).

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