Why Your To-Do List Is Not Working? And 12 Hidden Principles to Make it Work

Not quite long ago, I simply kept ‘Writing for blog’ on my to-do list for some time. I kept on migrating it from my daily to-do list day after the other. It went to the point that I started feeling guilty about keeping it on my to-do list. I said to myself, ‘You know what, you are not made for writing.’ And my ego even supported me saying, ‘Sathya! You got better things to do!’

Eventually, I got over it.

The trick was knowing the difference between the task and the project, and 11 other principles while making a to-do list.

Most of us get the premise behind making a daily to-do list but terribly fail in getting the process right. Even worse, some go to the extent of blaming their failure to the tool itself. ‘Go with the flow!’ They suggest.

I have been studying how to use a to-do list efficiently for improving my efficiency and helping others to enhance their performance. Here are the 12 principles that could help you to design your to-do list better.

Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

12 Principles to Master Your To-do List

  1. Set up a weekly 20-minute meeting with yourself. First things first. Take time for planning, listing your master list, and reviewing your actions, at least once a week. If required, put it on your calendar and stick to the commitment.

  1. Review your day’s work. Spend the last 5 minutes of your day analyzing: what went well and what failed. As well as challenges faced, lesson learnt.

  2. 6 Boxes Focus Areas: Peter Bergman suggests that deciding upon one’s key functional areas give a lot of clarity. You can look up into your job description and your contribution to organization’s overall mission could give you an idea to decide upon your focus areas. I usually allocate my to-do lists to the focus areas on the 6 Boxes template. This gives me a tremendous amount of clarity and focus.

  3. If possible, finish your day by making to-do list for tomorrow. It clears up your mind. More importantly, you know what needs to be done that day because you made the list previous day itself.

  4. Batch work: I prefer to batch my phone calls/emails at a particular time. While most of us simply can’t deny being disconnected, we should try as much as possible to be connected; meaningfully, not otherwise. Few recommend checking e-mails only once/twice a day. I usually don’t attend to call as it comes; I batch it and schedule it during my pause time. I prefer to be on my feet when I’m on a call. First, it helps me to shake off my nervousness, secondly, it saves me from distraction on my laptop, and thirdly, I get a quick workout.

  5. Avoid confusing an event with a task: This is a common mistake we make. Meeting with your boss/team, presentation to the client, a phone call to the manager @ 11 am, conference call on Friday, appointments; those items that can be put on your calendar, should be placed on calendar. These are events, not tasks, and would demand scheduling. However, preparing a presentation for the upcoming meeting @ 4 pm is a task. Know the difference. Google Calendar works perfectly for me to schedule events. I get notification alerts and can add/delete events from my smartphone. Use it to the optimum advantage.

  6. Chunk the project into Task list: Anything that requires more than a single action step is a project. I learnt that ‘Writing for the blog’ is a project which can and should be broken into tasks list like, ‘Research for the article,’ ‘Make the first draft,’ ‘Submit for editing and proofreading’ and ‘Re-write’ and ‘Publish on the web.’ Now ‘Research for the article’ is on my daily to-do list. Notice that it is not even ‘Write the article’; it is just research. Chunking as it is usually called is a fantastic liberator for those confused.

  7. Differentiate Goal and a Task: I recently hit 30 years old mark. While it gives a sense of responsibility, it also feels burdensome sometimes. Particularly, I realized that I need to take control of my health. However, putting ‘Become my best physical self’ on my to-do list simply don’t work. I needed to identify my action item – eating healthy, exercising, meditating, etc. and based on the chunking put it in the habit list or my to-do list.

  8. Make a separate Rituals/Habits Lists: For quite some time, I have been trying to put habits that I need to do that on my to-do list. It unnecessarily clogged it. Now it is in my habits list like Exercising, Meditating, Drinking water, etc. I also have to tell myself consciously that habit is entirely different from my task list because I got too elated of doing my habit as mastering my daily task list. It was not so.

  9. Be mindful of boredom/fatigue. Alternate between tasks– so that you keep yourself excited. I usually try to jump from a work in Sales to Training to Marketing etc.

  10. Pause. I get and walk out of the office once in half an hour or so. I take my phone and make the calls. Or simply walk out and check out what others are doing.

  11. Finally, remember that it is not about getting things done, it is about getting the right things done. While enough has been said about prioritizing – based on urgency, importance, or based on the resource available, always working on high-priority tasks gives me enough stress. I sometimes prefer to sneak in a phone call to a friend, 2 minutes’ walk after lunch, a comment on an entertaining post I just read – to break from the monotony of work. In its strictest definition, these are unimportant tasks, but I find them rejuvenating.

I recommend you to apply each of the principles while designing your to-do list. It will not just help you perfect your to-do list, but improve your overall productivity by identifying the kind of work thrown at you, processing it and ultimately get it down effectively.

6 thoughts on “Why Your To-Do List Is Not Working? And 12 Hidden Principles to Make it Work

  1. Nagaraj C says:

    Dear Sir,

    The writing is very good. I like to read short writing with effective message. Thank you

  2. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled
    blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward
    to seeking more of your excellent post. Also,
    I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!

    • sathyavision2020@gmail.com says:

      Thank you for your compliments!
      I am really happy to hear that you liked my most.
      Great to know that you shared it with your friends.
      Sure. Would be posting more such interesting ideas.
      Hope you will find it useful.
      Best,
      Sathya

  3. Poornima Ragavi says:

    Anna…12th point is well said….getting right things done and about rejuvenating….

    • sathyavision2020@gmail.com says:

      True Poornima. In the process of getting things we miss out getting the right things done. It is the proverbial fable about a man climbing the ladder only to realise that the ladder was leaning on the wrong wall.
      Glad to know you liked it!

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