Tackling Your Daily Task List: Maximizing Personal
While many of us create Daily Task lists, few of us use them to good effect. So although they
can be a simple and highly effective way to enhance our personal productivity, in reality often
they don’t really help us to get more done.
And whether we prefer to use pen and paper, the task management element that comes with an email
package like Outlook, or one of the standard dedicated task management applications, it’s far
easier to abuse, rather than use, our To Do lists.
So how should you use your Daily Task List
to maximize your personal productivity?
The first challenge is to control what goes on it in the first place.
As its name suggests, a Daily To Do list should consist only of actionable items that can be
actually be done today. That means it is not a place for reminders, random thoughts, or things to
be done tomorrow, next week or next year.
Before any item goes on to your daily list, make sure you have the resources (phone, number,
contact details, information, access to someone) to be able to do it today. If you don’t, don’t put
it onto a Daily List until you do.
Guard Your List.
Should other items come up during the day, unless they have to be done today, keep them off your
daily list. Write them down elsewhere, in a ‘global’ to do list.
If there is someone else who can do a task to a good enough standard, if possible, give it to
them, and make a note to follow up on their progress later.
Overfilled Daily Lists don’t work, so be realistic about what you can achieve in a day. That
means giving every potential task an estimated duration, and you can then limit the number of items
on your list to what is actually achievable.
If all the items add up to 13 hours of work, you’re not going to get through them in a day and
will just end up carrying them over. When you keep doing that, day after day, you feel out of
control and that you are not making progress.
If you are regularly carrying the same items over day after day, you are probably putting off
doing them because you don’t want to - they are too difficult or unpleasant.
Analyze why, then bite the bullet and make them the priority for tomorrow.
Many time management systems require you to prioritize your tasks either numerically (1, 2, 3)
or alphabetically (A, B, C), with 1s and As the most urgent or important items. And while that
makes logical sense, in reality dividing all your tasks this way isn’t easy, and it takes time and
effort. Far better to instinctively grab a few of the most important items and tackle these
Of course, there are other ways to prioritize, based not on the importance of the task itself,
but by context.
For instance, where you are (many tasks can only be done in the office or when are out and about
in town); who you are with (you need your boss, a colleague, or wife around); how much time you
have available (if you only have small time slots available, you can’t fill them with big jobs); or
how much energy you have (there’s no point starting intellectually demanding jobs at the end of the
day when you’re tired).
So, bear this in mind when compiling your list, and make sure that the items you put on your
Daily List are appropriate for the type of day you have ahead of you.
Also make sure that your daily to do list contains ‘move me forward’ items. These are tasks that
help you progress towards a goal.
If you only put on your to do list the things have to be done, then how are you ever going to
make any of your dreams come about, or reach worthwhile goals in life?
So make sure that every daily list contains at least one item (and preferably more) that will
move you forward.
Batch Your Tasks.
Try to put similar items together on your list. You will be more efficient if you can make five
phone calls together on one day rather than make one phone call on five separate days.
Less Than 2 Minutes? Do It Now!
And don’t let very small jobs even make it onto your list. If they will only take a couple of
minutes to complete, just do them straightway. This way you will get them out of your hair and
build up some ‘momentum’.
Even the most carefully thought through Daily Task list is worthless if you don’t create the
time to do what’s on it. That means minimizing distractions.
When you need to work through your Daily Task list, take practical steps such as turning off
email notifications. If these are continually flashing up on screen, there’s always the temptation
to check them out. Instead, set a time, perhaps twice a day for checking and responding to your
emails -there are very few that ever require a more urgent response that this.
Work Against The Clock.
You can also increase your productivity by working through your task list against the clock.
Just set a timer for 30-45 minutes - you can alter the duration to suit your concentration levels -
and just work as quickly as you can. Then take a short break and do the same again.
Prepare For The Day Ahead.
Make tomorrow’s list at the end of the day and review it first thing in the morning to ensure
that everything is still relevant. And of course, there’s no point making a Task List if you never
look at it.
Using a Daily Task List to improve our productivity is something we can all do, but if it is
going to work for you, it needs to become a habit, so make sure that you create task lists every
day using these tips. Most importantly, try hard to stick to your list - if you ignore it and just
do your own thing, your day will just spiral out of control.
Incorporate daily task list-building into your daily routine for a week and you’ll soon see your
personal productivity soar as you achieve more and more each day.