master your to-do list
Image: Julia Sudnitskaya/Shutterstock

8 tips to master your to-do list

13 Feb 2018

Your to-do list can be the biggest hack to effective productivity, but only if you do it right. Gain CEO Albizu Garcia is here to help you master your tasks.

We always want to believe that we can get everything done within an eight-hour day. Unfortunately, when 4pm rolls around and the to-do list remains unchecked, we question our efficiency.

Task switching, also known as set-shifting, refers to your ability to transition your attention from one activity to another. If done properly, you can successfully multitask, which means productivity will increase significantly.

But if you don’t task-shift properly, your efficiency can go south and your to-do list is likely to remain incomplete.

The American Psychological Association states that: “Although switching costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few 10ths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks.”

It’s difficult to complete the task at hand when your mind is already on the next one. In fact, shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40pc of your productive time.

Here are a few hacks to refocus your attention, increase your productivity and master the art of task switching.

1. Define the purposes of your tasks

Setting clear goals for what you want to achieve each day is vital for a consistent workflow. Even if your day is made up of repetitive tasks, first define the purpose and the expectations for each task.

This helps make sure you have all the answers you need before you begin working, and can avoid disrupting your workflow to gather more information.

2. Complete your biggest tasks first

Tackle those hefty items on your list first. Of course, we all get satisfaction from crossing out the simple items on our to-do list, but then we’ve left the hardest tasks for last. You’ll find even more satisfaction when you cross out those large projects that seem to reappear on your everyday list.

The first step is differentiating the minuscule tasks from the arduous projects. Most of us can do this on our own, but it can be hard to fight the temptation to work on those easy tasks.

Since the bigger tasks will take more energy, get those done at the beginning of the day when your mind is fresh and productivity is at its height.

3. Focus on tasks that match your skills

Though this one may seem more obvious, focus on those tasks that call upon your best skills. Think about a time when you were laser-focused, maybe listening to an intense podcast or watching a heated sports match.

When you are ‘in the zone,’ everything else seems to fade into background noise. Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this zone ‘the flow’ in psychology terms.

When we are in the flow state, our productivity is heightened and our focus is fully on the task at hand. Harnessing the flow zone increases overall satisfaction and happiness over time.

Getting into the flow is about having complete control over your actions, and one way to achieve this is through finding tasks we enjoy.

4. The Pomodoro technique

Another way to harness the flow is to create a workable environment and employ strategies that are conducive to productivity.

One popular method is the Pomodoro technique. Founded by time management expert Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique encourages schedule blocking enforced by a kitchen timer.

The schedule works in 25-minute increments and, for some, this form of schedule-blocking helps to increase focus on the task at hand.

The technique is said to decrease burnout and limit distractions with its strategically placed breaks. For some professions, the Pomodoro technique has proven successful, especially for those in more social fields such as teaching, writing and directing.

5. Select just three tasks to tackle

As the saying goes, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It is great to be ambitious but sometimes we think we can take on more within the eight-hour day. When we don’t complete the never-ending list, we feel unaccomplished and, frankly, unproductive.

However, if we manage our expectations, we can manage our workflow. This can mean selecting three tasks to complete. This may seem unrealistic, but many tried-and-true experts have found this technique to be foolproof when it comes to getting stuff done.

6. Create a repeatable schedule

It is time to put that dust-covered planner to use. Choose certain days of the week to dedicate to specific projects. Plan your week in advance so that your goals and priorities are clear from the start. If Thursdays are typical slow days, then dedicate that day to following up with lapsed clients or leads.

By creating a recurring schedule, you can count on completing certain tasks on given days during the week. Therefore, you can accomplish long-term goals by chipping away week by week, completing small projects as you go.

7. Batch tasks

Think of batching like buying products from the bulk food section. You get more value for your money when you buy almonds in bulk than when you buy a pre-packaged small bag. When you batch ideas, do it in bulk.

If you need to write a social media post, create posts for the week or for the month. Instead of rewriting each post daily, you increase your productivity by batching many ideas at once so you can then focus your energy on the next task.

8. Switch tasks at the right time

Just like a high-powered battery, we have to recharge our juice. When tasks require a hefty amount of energy and thought, we need to give ourselves a mental break.

A break can even mean switching to a simpler task so that you can come back to the larger task with a fresh outlook.

This is not multitasking and you are not putting off your work, but rather recognising that taking a breather will help recharge your brain to be more productive when you return to it.

According to Cornerstone, work overload decreases productivity by 68pc in employees who feel they don’t have enough hours in the day to complete their tasks, so keep these tips in mind to have a more productive workday.

By Albizu Garcia

Albizu Garcia is the CEO and co-founder of Gain, a marketing technology company that automates the social media and content publishing workflow for agencies and social media managers, their clients, and anyone working in teams.

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