06 Apr How to Manage To-do List Tasks for Optimal Productivity
How to manage to-do list for maximum productivity
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 help you avoid stress and maximise productivity.
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 many of us are unable to complete all the tasks on our list by the end of the average workday. In today’s blog, we discuss why to-do lists fail and how to manage to-do lists to achieve your goals and maximise efficiency.
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 – most to-do lists have way too many items, which means they never get completed.
- Too much time – research shows that the more time you give yourself to complete something, the less likely you’ll finish it. Having deadlines reduces procrastination, so it’s better to set smaller tasks with shorter timeframes than one large task with a longer timeframe.
- Too many unknowns – priorities change, so to-do lists are constantly changing. Unplanned interruptions also pop up, which takes our focus away from our tasks.
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 work tasks makes it much easier to keep track. But many of us don’t have a single “home” for our to-do’s.
You probably have some post-its, some drafts in your email, some dot points in your notebook, and maybe notes on a phone app.
Choose what suits you better, whether it’s a smartphone app or pen and paper, 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 on the go.
This means that you can jot things down whenever they pop up, so you don’t have to worry about remembering them later.
For Outlook users, the task function is a great place to record your to-do’s. This can be synced across devices as well, so you can access or add to your list on the go.
Tip #2 – Use time-blocking
Now that you’ve consolidated your list, our number one tip for managing your to-do list is to use time-blocking.
Time-blocking is a simple way to manage your time more effectively.
It is a great way to make sure that the most important tasks get enough time and attention. It means that your priorities come first, and others can’t fill up your time with less important tasks.
Divide your day into blocks of time and assign your to-do’s to each block. 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 go onto your task list.
Deadlines reduce procrastination – having a set time for a task means that you’re much more likely to complete it.
Prioritise the most important 1-3 tasks, and be realistic about how long you need to complete them. Don’t forget to allow time for unexpected interruptions.
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.
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 afternoon 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.
Planning 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 time-blocks. 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. Try planning the afternoon before and see how it can 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 have experience with unexpected tasks coming in and needing our attention. Set a due date earlier than when the task is actually due so that it doesn’t become urgent or last-minute – this will help you avoid stress when unexpected things invariably come up.
Build in a buffer of 15 minutes between meetings 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.
Don’t forget to build in buffers for breaks throughout your day. Even a quick 5-minute break to rest your eyes and stretch your legs can 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, it’s time to reassess. Review your to-do list and ask yourself whether everything on the list really needs to be done. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the task helping me to achieve my goals?
- Is the task aligned with my top priorities?
- If the task definitely needs to be done, can it be delegated?
- Can some tasks be automated?
Know what your value-add is, so you can prioritise tasks and say “no” to low-value tasks.
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 task because it’s too big and needs to be broken down into smaller tasks?
Regularly review how your to-do list is working and make adjustments where needed.
Best to-do list apps
Now that you know how to manage your to-do list, here are some of the best to-do list apps and task management apps out there to help you along the way.
Todoist is one of the most popular to-do list apps out there, thanks to its balance of simplicity and power. It’s quick and easy to add tasks and set due dates. The design is slick and intuitive.
It’s also easy to integrate with other apps that you use so that you can add calendar events or emails to Todoist as tasks – making it the best task management app.
TickTick stands out with its impressive array of features. Adding tasks is quick, and you can organise tasks using lists, tags, and due dates. There is a built-in Pomodoro timer that allows you to set a 25-minute session for any task.
It also integrates with various calendars, so you can see all your tasks and appointments in one place. You can even do time blocking within the app.
It also comes with a habit-tracking tool that allows you to review how many days you did or didn’t stick to your planned tasks.
Any.do is a mobile app that slows you to quickly add tasks, organise them into lists, and set due dates. Its best feature is the “Plan my Day” feature that forces you to schedule when you’ll do your tasks. If you add things to a list and then forget about them, this is the app for you.
Being a mobile app, you can easily add tasks on the go. It also integrates with Outlook or Google calendars so that you can see your tasks and appointments in one place.
There are many more apps out there to help you manage to-do list, so try out some apps and see which one works best for you!
An effective to-do list is a great productivity tool. It makes your workday more organised and less stressful. At PEPworldwide, we work with teams and individuals to increase their productivity and have more time for high-value work.
See how our tailored programs can help you manage to-do lists and achieve more in less time. We will show you practical strategies that you can implement straight away to build productive workplace habits. Find out more about how we can help.