How to Get More Done With Your To-Do List

A goal without a plan is just a wish and your to-do list is your plan to make your dreams come through. In my previous post, I encouraged you to use a To-do list to keep track of your tasks on a daily basis. In this post, I will try to discuss in detail how to create and use a to-do list effectively. We will identify, evaluate, and prioritise everything you want to get done, to make sure you are efficient throughout the day.

“What get’s scheduled gets done.”  So, grab a pen and a sheet of paper, or use your mobile device. Take time to write down a comprehensive list of everything that you want to get done. I mean everything. Even the simple, seemingly irrelevant things like taking out the trash, or helping a colleague with a task, write them all down. We don’t want to forget anything. Your tasks should be simple; broken down to small activities, realistic, and include an “action word”. E.g. Submit Marketing Report, Buy Bread etc.

There are so many ways to estimate the value of a task, most of the time we do this subconsciously by evaluating how long it will take, the resources required to complete or the people the task involves or influences. This gives you an idea of the amount of effort involved, and its possible benefits or consequences. Try to be realistic when prioritising. if you are not sure how much time, money or resources a task will take, overestimate.

This works in hand with step 2. Here we will classify each task into one of 4 categories. Now, this may seem like a lot but I’ll explain, and with daily practice updating your list, you will easily recognise what category a task belongs to.

  1. CATEGORY 1: URGENT and IMPORTANT: These are things that need to be addressed immediately, particularly those with looming deadlines. These could be mundane personal or work-related tasks. e.g. Job/ Scholarship applications, attend a crucial meeting, buy NEPA units, drinking water etc. These tasks should be at the top of your to-do list. They are highest in priority and must get done.
  2. CATEGORY 2: NOT URGENT but IMPORTANT: These are things that could fall in the first category, but you still have time, perhaps a month or a few weeks.
  3. CATEGORY 3: URGENT but NOT IMPORTANT: These are time-bound tasks that add no real value to your pursuit but you care a little about them anyway. e.g Attending your favourite movie premiere at the Cinema. It is important, the trailer was awesome, but if you miss it, you will not die.
  4. CATEGORY 4:  NOT IMPORTANT and NOT URGENT: These are the last things to be considered. In fact they shouldn’t be on your list at all, except that they may bring you some happiness. They are often fun activities hanging at the bottom of your to-do list, but they don’t have to be done at all. e.g working on a hobby.

How you categorise a task is up to you. e.g. Going Grocery shopping may be important and urgent if you are expecting guests in a day or two. It may not be urgent but is still important if they arrive in say, 2 weeks. It may not be important at all if you have some in the fridge. You get the idea?

Once you have listed and categorised every task, you can figure out which to do first and which to attend to later. If you are using an app, I recommend you organise your list in order of importance and urgency – with Category 1 tasks at the beginning and Category 4 tasks at the end.  If you are writing on paper, putting a Category number next to each task can suffice. Remember your list is not cast in stone and priorities change.  If there’s an emergency at work or home, your priority task has to be put aside temporarily.

Well, this bit is up to you. I prefer to address my to-do list from top to bottom; urgent and important first, followed by the convenient ones. Go out, get your tasks done. Cross them out. Where it is possible to execute more than one task (regardless of category) at a time without negative consequences, do so. Kill as many birds as possible with one stone.

A plan is worthless unless you review it on a regular basis. So, review your to-do list through the day. Updating it is a continuous process. Experts recommend you review your list the night before. I prefer you review and update the moment a new task crosses your mind, write it down so you don’t forget. Decide on its urgency and importance and put it in a category. If you use a calendar, remember to reschedule old undone tasks.

“If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan.” Fortune 500 CEO or full-time housewife, a good to-do list is invaluable to success. Follow these steps and you will achieve so much more in your day, and feel in better control of your life. Try them and let me know about it in the comments section. Do you have any tips for getting through your to-do list? Share them with me in the comments too!

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