For years, this annoying scene played out during many of my workdays: Just when I tied a bow on one project, two more tasks took its place. Soon, I was buried in assignments and stressed out.
And, on other occasions, I’d start on a small project — like creating a budget projection for an upcoming business trip — only to then have to set it aside when something more pressing sprang up; A week or so later, an unsettling thought would inevitably pop into my head: “Oh, crap: I forgot to finish that budget outlook, and now we have a check-in meeting in 30 minutes!”
This endless, uncomfortable cycle can leave you feeling overwhelmed at work. Finally, a while back, I came to a conclusion. Creating a daily to-do list could save me a considerable amount of headaches.
Why to-do lists can work
It’s important to note that to-do lists aren’t beneficial for everybody. If you have an extremely short attention span and tend to lose focus, for example, you might get fixated on looking at your list several times each day.
Additionally, if you make to-do lists too lengthy you’ll likely receive diminishing returns.
An article by pcmag.com suggests limiting to-do lists to a maximum of five daily tasks. Harvard Business Review, meanwhile, stresses the importance of focusing on one task at a time on a to-do list.
In my experience, to-do lists have been key to keeping me on task, while subsequently boosting my productivity. First of all, to-do lists help you prioritize your tasks, especially if you note a due date for each project. To-do lists help you manage your time, by effectively laying out your day or week, helping you visualize what needs to be accomplished soon.
To-do lists can also provide you with a measure of satisfaction, and motivation, as you cross off tasks you’ve completed. This can also provide you with a light at the end of the tunnel during a hectic stretch at work.
These days, apps to help automate to-do lists are abundant (allowing you to delegate tasks, too), such as Asana, ClickUp, and Workfront. Many of their features are similar to what you’d find in Google Calendar, including built-in reminders. What’s more, most of these to-do list apps have a free trial period.
Or, you can create a to-do list in the Notes function on your smartphone. Finally, you could always create a handwritten to-do list, on a good ol’ paper Post-it note.
Whatever method you use to create a to-do list, it’s imperative to stick to it on a daily basis.
I started making a detailed, daily to-do list about a year ago. I found, over time, that the process required incremental tweaking to become truly efficient.
At first, I created a to-do list from scratch each morning, as I sat at my desk booting up my laptop. Eventually, I began making a list of all work-related items I’m typically assigned on a daily basis, numbered with regard to priority. Soon, instead of creating that list each day, I made one list per week, and simply put checkmarks by each day.
Before long, though, I realized that online formats offered by the likes of Google and Outlook are simply too convenient to ignore. I began noting every recurring weekly meeting I have in Google Calendar and started each workday with a quick glance at that calendar on my computer or smartphone.
I started taking great pride in deleting items in that Google Calendar as I completed them, or in checking off “daily check-in meeting with trainee” on my handwritten to-do list.
And, as that process became completely streamlined, I forgot about fewer and fewer tasks. I never was caught off-guard by another meeting. I finished my workdays strong because I never had to stop and waste valuable time trying to remember issues that needed to be addressed.
Eventually, by utilizing to-do lists, I no longer found myself buried in work-related tasks.
If you’re forgetful or tend to find yourself overwhelmed with tasks at work, the first item on your itinerary should be to create a daily to-do list.