Trim that List

In a perfect world, everyone would have a to-do list guiding their actions. The most productive people create to-do lists so they can identify their important tasks for the day and work on them. I always advocate never going through the day without a list. However, it is possible through well-meaning but misguided efforts to abuse the concept. If you have ever faced anxiety when you look at your to-do list in the morning, this post is for you.

Don't Panic
There’s an easy solution
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Write it down

My boss once told me “The faintest pencil is stronger than the sharpest memory.” The human brain is a very powerful supercomputer. Not once does it stop working throughout your life. Every second, the brain processes a lot of information and controls many things you are not even aware of such as heart rate. Latest estimates suggest the brain has up to 2.5 petabytes (Google it) of storage space. Despite possessing this unfathomable amount of memory, the brain is not good at keeping ideas.

I’d trust one over my brain every day
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Do you have an hour?

A lot of people would like to achieve more each day. They want to do things like building a new habit, starting a new project or writing a blog. Most people say they can’t find time to get started on their goals. Surprisingly, the same set of people somehow find two hours each day to watch funny videos.

People underestimate how much they could achieve in a year if they dedicated just one hour a day to work on a goal. How do productive people find time to do the things that matter?

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Tie tasks to long-term goals

To-do lists are a very useful tool for completing tasks. You wouldn’t catch me at work without one. However, if they have, one disadvantage, it is that they can encourage short-term thinking where the aim becomes completing as many low-value tasks as possible each day so you can have the satisfaction of crossing many items off your list. In order to be most effective, your to-do lists have to be tied to a larger system: Long-term goals.

to-do list
Wouldn’t be caught without one
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Why more people don’t use checklists (and why you should)

Last weekend, I read The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right by Atul Gawande. Gawande makes a very interesting case of how complex operations from fields as diverse as aviation, construction and surgery can be made safer and more efficient through the use of a surprising low-tech tool: The checklist. Pilots swear by checklist and the use of checklists in flights is the reason why air travel still remains the safest way to travel.

Checklist
Just a checklist
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Power of 3

Last week, a friend shared a problem he had been having with his productivity. Every morning at work, he would look at his to-do list. It contained every task he had identified as needing to get done before the end of the day. However, he could never seem to get started on those tasks because in his own words, “There were just too many of them.” We had an insightful conversation and his problem got me thinking perhaps there are other people out there who have the same problem. With his blessing, I have decided to make this week’s post about the solution he and I decided he could try.

to
3 to remember
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Out of sight, out of mind

How much progress have you made towards your personal development plan for the year? Did you complete your tasks for the week? If you can answer these questions without having to do some digging, congratulations you are ahead of most people already.

Many people make lists. New years’ resolutions are an often joked about list. They represent a classic example of what happens to most lists. People write them down, then forget about them. The act of writing down what you intend to do has been shown to increase the likelihood of achieving that thing. However, if you really want to get more done, you will have to make sure your lists are living documents.

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How to stop working outside office hours

In one of the Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons, the two main characters come in to work in the morning, punch in their time cards and begin cartoon antics. At the end of the day, they punch out their cards (and are humorously replaced by an identical looking Night shift pair).

In those days, it was easy. Everyone knew how many hours they were paid to work. They came to work and left by the clock. At the end of the day, work could be left in the office and picked up the next day. There was no need to discuss work-life balance because work and life were two different spheres that almost never intersected.

Work-life balance
Is not just a concept
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Choose your task in advance

“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

Brian Tracy

The most productive people are not effective because they do every thing. Instead, highly productive people have become effective because they acknowledge there are things they should not be doing in the first place.

We all have a few hours each day to get things done. The good news is not all tasks have the same priority. The bad news is a lot of people don’t stop to figure out what is important and what is trivial.

Have you read it?
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Keep your friends close and your to-do list closer

Where is your to-do list for the day? As I type this post, I can take a quick glance at mine on my favourite note-taking app, Evernote. On the go, it’s available on my mobile phone. It automatically syncs across my devices so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I go to great lengths to make sure I have my to-do list with me wherever I am. That’s because out of all the productivity tools in my box, the to-do list has proven a life saver.

A to-do list
Ready to cross the next task off
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