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Making productive to-do lists

Everyone makes lists – though not everyone does so in the same way. Whether you are the one who makes a list in their head of things to get at the grocery store, or the one who has to-do lists for every aspect of your life, these tips will help you be more productive and efficient in accomplishing the tasks on your list.

Use the right app or medium.

There are a many list apps you can get for your smart phone, and there is also a simple pen and paper.  The first thing you should do is decide which method of keeping track of your list(s) works best for you. Many apps allow you to add due dates, collaborate or share lists, and sort tasks. PC Magazine has list of the best to-do apps, or you can ask friends and relatives for suggestions. If you are a pen and paper type of person, the key to finding the best medium is to make sure it is a list you can easily see and refer to, and something you will not ignore. There are numerous options that include lined pages, calendars, and tabs for sorting lists. The best way to find the right one for you is to make a list (see what we did there?) of the key things you want and then do a google search for those items. Or just use a plain notebook and design your own.  The two most important things to remember are that it must work for you and be one you will actually use.

Know the difference between goals and tasks.

A to-do list should be task-focused, not goal-focused. Your goal might be to lose 10 pounds, but the task list would be to work out 20 minutes each day, eat a healthy lunch, ect. Or your goal might be to have a vegetable garden this year; your task list would include everything from preparing the garden area to planting to harvesting. Make sure your to-do lists are specific enough with tasks.

Use separate lists.

You should make separate lists for work, home, and personal items, and it is okay if you want to make an overall goal list, just make sure you realize it is your goals and not an actual to-do list. You should separate your lists according to where/how you need them. For instance, your work list might stay at your desk, and be shared with co-workers if using an app. Your grocery list might stay at home and be shared with family members/roommates, so you can see if someone stops to pick things up before you do. Also, consider sub-lists. You might have a meeting on your to-do list, but you will likely need various items for that meeting and have certain topics you want to make sure are discussed. Another example, if you have a job interview lined up, you might make a list of things you want to be sure to take with you.

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Set time limits or deadlines.

Be sure that each item on the list has a time limit for completing it or a deadline for when it must be finished. This will help you stay on track, by not letting you spend too much time on one specific item, while also making sure you do not miss important deadlines, whether it be when a work project is due, or when you have to get cake mix for a birthday.

Review and prioritize.

You need to review your to-do lists regularly. If you have a daily list, you should look at it the night before and make sure you have all the necessary items to complete each task the next day. Weekly or monthly lists should be reviewed as well. Next, prioritize your items making sure upcoming deadlines can be met. You should also review any sub-lists you might have for specific items and make sure you will be able to check all those off in time.

Making productive to-do lists

Make sure your lists are realistic.

You might think that “win the lottery” is a great thing to put on a to-do list, but other than actually buying a lottery ticket (actual tasks) you really have no control over winning the lottery (a goal – see above) and the odds are that you will never win the lottery. Your lists should always contain items that you can actually do.

Cross off completed tasks.

No matter what method you choose for your lists, you should always make sure to cross off completed items. This lets you see how much you have accomplished, something we all enjoy seeing, and it can help you make better lists in the future. After keeping lists for a while, you will be able to see exactly how many tasks you can do in a day. You can then make sure that you do not over-schedule your tasks or allow too much or too little time to complete them.

Lastly, do not be afraid to make changes.

A good to-do list-making process should make life easier and less stressful. No matter what method you first choose, you may find it does not quite work like you hoped. Do not stick with anything that is not working for you. If you do not like the color orange and all the app features are in shades of orange, you are not going to like using it and seeing that dreaded color every day. The purpose of the lists is to help you be more productive and efficient with your time. If your to-do list method is adding more stress, make modifications until you find what works best for you and your team and/or family.

Topics: Establishing a Career, Re-Entering the Workforce, Preparing for an Interview, Changing Jobs, Being a Great Employee, Managing Stress

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