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Let me take a guess about how your Monday mornings start. You wake up, get ready and head to work. When you get to work and take a look at all of your projects, you figure out what needs to be done. Now you get out your trusty to-do list app and start making a monstrous list of tasks you’ll carry around all week and swear to finish. Friday comes and you did the bare minimum…again.

Your problem isn’t your ambition or the task planning app you use.

The problem is in how you are using your to-do list in general.

Let’s talk about some ways to make you more productive by identifying some of the pitfalls hidden in to-do lists.

You Start With The Wrong List

People either use one really big list and choose items from it with no real plan. Or they have lots of little lists with the same problem. Here is how I tame my tasks.

I use Evernote to catch all information, including my tasks. Evernote is where I make a BIG list. The big list is absolutely everything I need to do. My main list is divided in two sections —  Home and Work.

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Both lists are pretty long and can be intimidating.

evernote_list

My Home list has everything from take out the trash to cut wood to patch a drafty opening in the shed before it snows a lot. My work list is similar. Since I have a day job and I am a freelance writer, the Work list helps me manage my projects and deadlines. Because everything is in one place, it’s easier to sort.

You Are Sorting Tasks Wrong

Part of what stops us from getting the things done we set out to do is the enormous list we task ourselves with completing. A long list is intimidating.

Sure, it all needs to be done, but breaking it down and analyzing the task to see where it falls on the importance scale is really important. A long time ago I saw this 4 place matrix and it changed the way I chose my activities. This is a typical Priority Matrix, also better known as an “Eisenhower Box”.

MerrillCoveyMatrix

This is how I get things done on Mondays Get Things Done With 3 Tiny Changes To Your Day Get Things Done With 3 Tiny Changes To Your Day There will be good days and bad days, productive and unproductive ones. You can tilt the scales in favor of the productive days by making some simple changes to your routine. Read More . I look at the large combined home and work list. I scan the tasks and shift them to a smaller home list or work list. From there I use the matrix pictured above to decide where the task falls on the importance scale. Sorting them this way will weed out all the items on the list which aren’t moving you toward your goals.

Don’t spend a lot of time pondering every aspect of each task. Be ruthless like you are with jobs like reducing the clutter in your email inbox 5 Action Steps For Curing Your Inbox Zero Email Frenzy 5 Action Steps For Curing Your Inbox Zero Email Frenzy Inbox Zero is one of the most popular buzz words. To truly solve your email issues you need to go beyond Inbox Zero and address the underlying problems. Read More (hopefully). You can always move the task to a different list later.

Your List Is Way Too Long To Complete In A Day

Once I have the tasks sorted into order of importance, I move them into a Today folder in Todoist. I use a totally separate to-do list app for my daily tasks so I am not overwhelmed by the longer list or get distracted in the sea of information in my Evernote library. You could just as easily use a new note in Evernote with your daily to-dos and check them off as you finish them. Like me, you can continue to use what you are accustomed to.

By having just the tasks I need to do today visible, I am not as overwhelmed. I can set reminders, see any notes and concentrate on just the things I need to get done. As I check off the list, they disappear from sight and I gain momentum.

At the end of the day you can go in and delete all the completed tasks in the morning and bring in another small list of tasks.

You’re Using Too Many Apps

Less is more when it comes to choosing to-do apps The 5 Commandments For Choosing The Right To-Do App For Productivity The 5 Commandments For Choosing The Right To-Do App For Productivity Different people organize in different ways. So choosing a to-do app really depends on what kind of person you are. Here are five commandments you can think about for your own productivity system. Read More  you need to manually use to get organized. Todoist — and many other to-do list apps– have ways to link up to different services. Check out the other apps can link up with to add some automation or additional functionality.

Alternatively, you can use Todoist with the Getting Things Done method for managing your tasks.

You’re Forcing Yourself To Be Productive

If the way you are trying to be productive is a chore and you hate to do it, you won’t. Once you find a way you trust and is easy to use anywhere you are, your productivity will skyrocket.

When something is hard to do, we procrastinate. When something is fun and or easy, we will fly right through it without hesitation.

Choose A Method And Stick With It

While there are too many articles out there on to-do apps and methods to be more productive How To Maximize Your Productivity Anywhere How To Maximize Your Productivity Anywhere With telecommuting lifestyles taking off, work is not limited by hours or locations. Here are a few pointers to help you make the best of working on a notebook while on the move. Read More , it all comes down to what works for you. Once you find something that works for you, try not to keep changing these habits. Not sticking with something will make it harder for you to trust any one method and not fully understanding the app you chose to use.

Your productivity is not coming from the app, it’s coming from the method you are comfortable using.

So in the end, pick an app, start to use it, learn it, and incorporate all the options it’s capable of. If the app doesn’t fit your method, find something that does. I think this is why Evernote is a popular choice Lighter And Smoother Note-Taking -- See What Evernote Has Lined Up For You Lighter And Smoother Note-Taking -- See What Evernote Has Lined Up For You Ever wished Evernote had a simpler, easier-to navigate Web interface? Your wish has been granted. Evernote Web just had a makeover, and it appears refreshingly zen in its latest avatar. Read More . It can conform to just about any way you’d like to use it.

What are the types of to-do lists These 3 Types Of Lists Will Help You Be More Productive These 3 Types Of Lists Will Help You Be More Productive When it comes to being organized and productive, the to-do list is the ultimate tool. Three types of lists could give you all the power you need without complicating your planning too much. Read More you make? Do you get more done with lists? What are your tips for taming your daily tasks? 

Image Credits: Time Lost Clock by Matt Gibson via Flickr, The “To Do List” Screen in the Evernote App via Flickr, Matrix Image

  1. Gabriel
    December 26, 2015 at 12:46 am

    Great article and methods, Trevor! I like the quadrant chart - that's a great way to analyze tasks.

    I was very overwhelmed with my ToDo List before. It was impossible to complete in one day due to the nature of my job, and so dynamic that I was re-sorting and re-prioritizing it over and over, becoming stressed out!

    I found that every list app had too many features for me, being confusing and overwhelming, and did little to actually prioritize or take into account the changing importance level of uncompleted tasks.

    I took action and created what became ChiefEO List, my free and available iPhone App that automatically sorts your ToDo List. The items on the list have importance levels on a scale of 1 to 10 that are based on how important they are on the date you enter them to the list and how important they will be on their eventual Due Date. List uses that data to know how important they are on any given day.

    Feel free to check it out. I've been using it for months and it's made a massive impact on how effective I am at work and how I feel while working!

    ChiefEO List on the App Store http://apple.co/1Orhxgz

    Thanks,
    Gabriel
    @ChiefEO

  2. Jackson
    December 20, 2014 at 7:30 am

    I generally believe that if there's anything important that requires my attention, it's essentially to address them before lunch. No matter how I tweak my to-do list or prioritise, productivity inevitably sinks after lunch.

  3. Rob
    December 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Great article. I believe that we always over-estimate what we can do in a day, and under-estimate what we can do in a year, which leads to problems with creating to do lists and task breakdowns. For my to-do lists, I usually look for 'domino tasks'- i.e. tasks that, once completed, make some of the other tasks much easier or less urgent, and I focus almost exclusively on these...

    • Trevor
      December 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm

      I agree Rob. Managing your day is a skill. To get things done, you need to have a strategy and attack the tasks in ways to build momentum.

      Something else I like to to is have smaller easy to complete tasks ready for the times I am stalled in some way on a larger task. This was something I found helpful when I was customizing cars and other physical projects.

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