Ah, to-do lists. Think of them as you will, but to-do lists are as frequent in my life as post-it notes (and believe me, I love using post-it notes). For myself, to-do lists are incredibly important to my business. My business is quite literally run by a to-do list.
But over the months and years of using this method, I’ve realized a lot of things about them. I’ve realized more especially around this time. It’s for the first time where my business has reached a sort of growth stage.
For the first time, I’m starting to earn money for my craft. Not to mention I’ve stressed to myself the importance of focus and staying on task. This was different from the man who was so easily distracted by video games, Youtube videos, and so many other things.
Yeah I won’t lie, I was quite the hypocrite back then (or at the very least loosely practicing what I preached). The difference now is I’m taking things seriously and have grown significantly since I wrote a piece on to-do lists so long ago. I believe now I can share some proper methods on productivity with to-do lists.
Don’t Pile On The Tasks
My past-self was right about a few things. The first being to-do lists shouldn’t be overflowing with tasks.
I still believe this is the main reason to-do lists get a bad rep and people say they don’t work. To reiterate, my business is practically run by to-do lists.
But what I didn’t know back then was how our brain plays into all this. Much like with setting massive goals, when we do that, our brain gets overwhelmed and shuts down. The same is true when you have a massive pile of work that you need to do and throw it into a list.
People start to feel stressed and worn out because our brain is trying to keep up with us doing so many different things. Maybe not to the extent of multi-tasking but when you have ten or more items crammed in a list, our brain will start telling us:
“You think you can do all that in a day?”
Sometimes we say yes only to be stressed out, exhausted, and utterly drained to doing anything. There’s even a good chance of that happening halfway down your list.
Instead, it’s more productive for us to start off small. Even today I still give myself 3 tasks that I think are most important on that day. My workload is still relatively small so it makes sense to have a short list of my priorities.
This makes things manageable and doesn’t overwhelm you. This also allows us to focus on what is most important for us and/or our business. It weeds out the unnecessary tasks that our brain already knows we need to do. For me that’s making social media posts, engaging with people, reading books, and so on.
Narrow Your Focus On A Singular Task
One of the great things about a short list is the ability to zero in on one thing. I know I touched on it briefly moments ago, but it’s still worth noting.
By all means every item you place on that list is important. However when you are working on the task it’s important to focus.
A short to-do list can help as you trick your brain into thinking you really don’t have a lot to do. Although some people might say that’s a reason to tack on more, I’d still hold back. For one, when we focus on a task, chance are we’ll be able to finish it significantly faster than if we were distracted.
But also having a short list can boost our confidence. Again thinking that we can finish our tasks earlier and faster and still have a lot of time on our hands is really nice. You can use that time then to add more tasks, do routine stuff, or to relax and wind down.
This is one of the great benefits of having a short to-do list, you narrow your focus on a single task. You omit what isn’t necessary and you focus on the core. Overall it improves the quality of whatever you are creating.
It might not be noticeable at first, but the more concentrated you are at growing your craft and focusing on it, the more it’ll grow over time.
It Feels Satisfying To Mark Everything Off
The second thing I was right about concerning to-do lists is when you have a long list you get addicted to marking things off. This can be a huge problem as it causes people to rush their work. That or diminish the quantity of their work so they finish faster.
To-do lists won’t help you if you are only looking for short bursts of progress. That kind of list will do that but it’ll create a lot of busy work. You don’t feel satisfied after you are done. I know this because I used to set goals without meaning. Accomplishing the simple ones felt unsatisfying even when I worked hard to achieve it.
Today whenever I complete a list, I feel satisfied. I believe I made genuine progress and focused on work that really matters. It’s by having a short list with moderately difficult work that can be satisfying.
For me, I don’t get off of striking down the items on the list. By all means, it feels good. But I find true satisfaction from the work itself, making progress and knowing the work will bring me closer to my dreams.
I believe that is the same for others who create these shortlists with only a handful of tasks. Every day I end up finishing my workday satisfied because I finished all the work that I wanted to get done.
That is significant as so many people work for companies they don’t like. Furthermore, they feel completely detached from the goals of the work. There are exceptions and some people do enjoy the work, but most leave unsatisfied only to come back home and do the same stuff the next day.
It feels great to finally say I find satisfaction in my work. A lot of it comes from me choosing how I want to work. By tailoring that list specifically for me, I tailor my work. You can certainly do the same if you have a business or a side-hustle or even thinking of starting one or the other.
Whether you were someone who tried and failed or you’ve never done to-do lists, I encourage you to try this method.
Create a short list of tasks to do each day. Adjust it based on your lifestyle and your goals. From there strive to finish every item on the list and let me know how you feel. I’d love to get some feedback from this!
To your growth!
Visit Eric at EricScottBurdon.com