1. Add a 'done' list to your to-do list
A to-do list is a whole lot more effective if you can feel the progress you make while using it. It's also more effective when you can go back and have a detailed record of what you've finished. A 'done' list in your to-do list is the best way to get both the motivation and sense of accomplishment of ticking off an item on your list. It's also extremely useful when you need to give progress reports to your boss or your team, or when you feel lost in your work and need to regain perspective on your project's status.
2. Break down your list by part-of-day
Morning tasks and afternoon tasks. Before lunch, after lunch, before I leave tasks. Whatever the sorting, batching your tasks by time of day not only allows you to engage them in efficient batches, but also lets you decide what tasks fit best for your mood or circumstances during the day. Put hard stuff upfront in the morning when you have more creativity and put the more routine tasks in the afternoon for your wind-down. It’s all about proper planning.
3. Make every task very explicit
A lot of people are vague or general when they write their to-do lists. If you’re disciplined, this is fine. If you aren’t, however, it’s better to give yourself step-by-step instructions as to what you have to do and how. This will remove the “ugh, I have to figure this out first!” barrier that stands in front of you starting each task. Be descriptive and give yourself an easy way to get things done.
4. Add deadlines to all tasks
The reason most attempts at a to-do list fail is that people set out tasks and fail to add deadlines, whether self-imposed or mandated by their project timelines. Deadlines drive you to make progress and finalize your work on any given task, rather than putting it off for later in a perpetual loop. Prioritize as needed and make sure you're accomplishing the big things first, but don't forget to set finish-by dates for the little things too. A lot of neglected little tasks can add up to a big headache.
Any.do is a great free app for organizing your to-do list, syncing it across devices, tracking your progress. The app allows you to set regular and task-specific reminders, offers action shortcuts that let you place calls, send text messages, or write emails in-app, and lets you break down big tasks into sub-goals for a more in-depth approach. A robust Moment feature prompts you to work on your to-do list every morning so that you can start your day productively.
6. Have a task-master keep you honest
Whether you just have an individual check in with you on your list or have someone you can talk to throughout the day feed you your tasks one by one, having someone else help you execute on your list is a great way to bring further obligation to completing your to-do. Preferably, find someone unrelated to the tasks who can provide an objective view on what you should do and when. You can similarly assist the other person with their to-do and become a to-do superhero duo.
7. Redo or reorganize it every morning
A great way to start your day without the distractions of social media is to focus on your to-do list. It gets you thinking about work immediately, allowing you to start your day strong and leave the Facebook browsing for the midday slump. More importantly, it helps to refresh your to-do list based on changing priorities and your current progress. Maybe you found out that a task you thought was unimportant is considered crucial by your boss, or maybe you made a ton of progress on one you were planning to do later. Adjust your list and deadlines accordingly to get more done.
8. Google Keep
It’s a free, simple, and available-everywhere note-taking app from Google. Whether you’re keeping a list, an individual note, a calendar reminder, or need to write your list using voice-to-text, Google Keep can keep all of that information you need on your phone, laptop, tablet, and desktop in super simple, super clean interfaces. You can share your notes with others or quickly search them on Google Keep, making it extremely versatile for different uses.
9. Tie your tasks to rewards
Depending on what type of person you are, you might find it motivating to attach rewards to task completion. Whether it’s a per-task, per-day, or per-week reward, properly and honestly evaluate your to-do progress and give yourself that prize. It doesn’t need to be a physical gift (though it could be). Instead, it could be something as simple as a three-hour binge on Netflix that you only allow yourself if you’ve gotten 100% of your to-do done.
Wunderlist is another free organizational app that puts an extra bit of focus on teams. Using Wunderlist, you can collaborate on and share a to-do list with the rest of your team. The ability to comment on tasks, delegate to different teammates, and upload files and images to tasks makes teamwork a breeze. Browser extensions and mobile apps that allow you to add links and web pages directly to Wunderlist round out a great feature set for any professional.