The experts agree: the single most powerful tool for managing your personal or business affairs is the lowly to-do list. If you’re not making and using a daily to-do list, you’re not getting as much done as you can.
What is a to-do list? Nothing magic, just a list of the important, non-routine things you need to accomplish. For example, your list wouldn’t contain things you need to do every day, like brushing your hair or answering the mail. But it would contain shopping for a new suit or re-organizing your filing cabinet.
If it’s going to work, your list must be confined to the 7-10 most important things that you have to do. If the list gets longer, it’s not a to-do list but a wish-list.
The time to make tomorrow’s to-do list is tonight, when you won’t overestimate how much you can accomplish tomorrow, and when you’re not under the gun to get the morning going. Pick 7-10 tasks for tomorrow and rank them in order of importance.
A technique that works for many is to turn the to-do list into a schedule, with specific amounts of time allocated for each task you want to accomplish.
Tomorrow begin the day by doing or delegating the most important task first. If it’s the most important, it might be the least fun to do. But do it first anyway. At days end, if you’ve completed no more than the first two or three tasks, you can rest assured that the most important things are done. Management gurus tell us that doing the most important 20% will accomplish 80% of your objectives!
(A little piece of behavioral engineering: reinforce yourself for doing a difficult or odious task by scheduling something you like to do at its completion.)
It’s not important what the list looks like. This is one time when form doesn’t affect function. What is important is that you make the list each night and work it from most to least important each day. Make sure you don’t confuse what is urgent with what is important — things that further your life goals.
Start using a to-do list daily and you’ll be making things happen instead of letting things happen to you.
P.S. To-do list software and apps abound. One we like for its simplicity and ease of use is Ta-Da List, free from the innovative 37 Signals group.