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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What does your Thursday look like?

Weekly Planner

The secret to having a productive week is simple: Plan your week in advance. A lot of people spend the weekends having fun and resting. That’s OK. Taking time to rest is an essential part of staying productive. However, taking 15 minutes every Sunday evening to plan your week can give your life much needed direction.

Make a list of the tasks you wish to accomplish during the week. Assign those tasks to the days you intend to work on them. That’s it.

Weekly planner
My week captured in Trello
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Don’t try to remember it

A sticky note

Someone once told me “the faintest pencil is better than the strongest memory.” I didn’t take him as serious as I should have back then. Not until the day I forgot to turn in a report on time because my memory convinced me the report was due the next day.

Our memories are unreliable. Our brains are designed so we forget most of the information we are exposed to within a short period of time. This is a good thing because frankly speaking most of the information we are exposed to is useless. You don’t need to remember how many people you drove past on your way to work this morning or the colour of each individual tile you stepped across today. Unless there is a good reason for remembering something eg your livelihood depends on it, you will probably forget it after a few hours.

Forgot something?
You probably didn’t write it down

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What do you do with your downtime?

A clockface

Do you have some downtime this week? I’m sure if you thought more careful about how you spend your days, you could probably find 30 minutes on most days when you are not really doing anything. Do you have any unfinished tasks on your to-do list from last week? It could be an annoying task you have been putting off for a few days such as dropping off your laundry or rearranging the books on your shelf. What if you chipped away at those catch up tasks for 30 minutes each day during your downtime?

A person sleepy in front of a laptop
A lot of downtime is spent on idle browsing

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Write your next task this way

A to-do list

Raise your hand if you use a to-do list. You’re my best friend if you do. To-do lists are a great way of capturing tasks you need to get done. The satisfaction of crossing off items on your list as they get done or the ding you hear after marking a task as completed on your digital list motivate you to start working on the next task so you can get another feel good hit as soon as it’s completed.

A to-do list. All the items have been checked
Just seeing this makes me feel good

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Creating your own personal productivity system (iv)

A person sitting in front of a computer

November has been the personal productivity system (PPS) month. I hope you read the three preceding articles that cover what you need to design your own PPS. In case you didn’t you can find them here, here and here. I felt this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t share some of what I used for my own PPS. I believe there is no such thing as the perfect productivity app and encourage everyone to experiment until they find what works best for them. However, if you are curious about what I use, here you go:

A blank pushing an app button
Try to focus on the principles instead of the apps

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Creating your own personal productivity system (ii)

A person sitting in front of a computer

Last week, I wrote about what a task, an event and a process are. Just in case you missed that post, you can read it here. A good personal productivity system is one that has been set up to handle tasks, events and processes. Each requires a different response.

Tasks are often the easiest to handle. They are to be done by you and you are the only person responsible for them. A task is best handled by being written down as an item on a to-do list. Optionally, you can also write down when a task is due eg Buy onions at ‘Yankaba market 10am. Adding due times can be helpful when you need to arrange tasks in the order to start first. Write down tasks in simple, clear sentences using an action word. Avoid ambiguous words like “Contact” instead use visit, meet with, call, email etc so there is no doubt what you need to do.

An empty to-do list
Tasks go here

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Don’t let the list stress you out

A stickman waiting

A few weeks ago, a friend complained about her to-do list no longer being a source of motivation for her. Rather than serving as a personal productivity tool, it was only causing her stress. Concerned I reached out to her and told her I’d be willing to help. I guessed that most likely, the problem was with how she set up tasks on her to-do list.  It turned out I was right (I enjoyed my Sherlock moment).

My friend has to manage many different processes. There are points in some of those processes where she has to wait for input from other people before she can continue. It was this waiting that was causing her anxiety. She was capturing “waiting” as a to-do list task. Big mistake.

An empty to-do list
Only capture a task to be completed by you

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Getting the most out of your To-do list with proper list design

A clipboard with a to-do list

This article is meant to be a companion piece to the article from last week on why you should have a To-do list. If you haven’t read last week’s article, be sure to read it here first. If you already use a To-do list and are here for the tips I promised this week, keep reading.

Stick to the medium that works for you

There is really no difference between a paper list and a digital list. If writing things down on a notebook is what works for you, stick to it. If, however, like most of us in the digital era, you prefer a software that syncs effortlessly between your phone and laptop, that’s also fine. It’s very important that you experiment a bit to find the medium you are most comfortable with. If updating your list feels too much like a chore, the purpose of the to-do list has been defeated even before you start and you should consider changing to a medium that you are most comfortable with.

Digital vs Analog - Copy
Digital vs Analog: Your Call

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Do you have a To-do list?

Simplicity is the hallmark of genius.

If you are like the average Nigerian, you probably wake up in the morning full of energy believing today will be your day. You are finally going to get that task you have been putting off since last year done. A day is 24 hours after all. There is probably enough time in there for you to get what you need done. You would be right. 24 hours is a lot of time to get things done. Yet, chances are by the end of the day, you are feeling too tired to bother with that task and it ends up being pushed into the vague future. Today might not have been your day. Perhaps tomorrow will be. Except that tomorrow never comes and it never will. Not unless you take steps to get you started on what really matters to you.

Continue reading “Do you have a To-do list?”