To-Do List Strategies

Action Items Notepad

We all have them. To-do lists that seem never-ending. Marking off one action item somehow generates three more related tasks.

I’ve often heard the advice, “First thing in the morning, complete the easiest item on your to-do list. The resulting sense of accomplishment will propel you through the rest of the list.” When fighting off that morning fog, this advice may feel like the best course of action. I suggest trying the opposite approach for a few days.

When arriving to work, complete your hardest task. The one you don’t even want to think about. I learned this technique a few years ago from the Freelance America Podcast (unfortunately now defunct). A show guest stated that completing the most difficult task generates a greater sense of victory and momentum. In applying this advice, I’ve found that any dread I may have felt about my day is replaced with confidence. I’m less likely to procrastinate and push my least-appealing task to tomorrow’s list.

Throughout the day, try taking care of action items as they arise. In the book, How To Enjoy Your Life And Your Job, Dale Carnegie suggests this approach can encourage efficiency. Instead of recording the to-do and revisiting it later, you’ve immediately accomplished and eliminated it. As long as the task is not time-intensive, I think this strategy can be helpful in moderation. If I immediately responded to every email that pinged my inbox, I’d have trouble focusing and getting anything done. When a task comes up and is bothering me, however, I’ll take the 30 minutes or so it takes to get it done. Even if that task is not directly work-related, moving forward without the added stress helps me be more productive.

Individual preferences and motivations are unique, so I suggest evaluating these strategies. On some mornings (for example when you’re stuck in the office and it’s a beautiful day outside), the easiest task is all you can muster the energy for. On those days, we all deserve a pass.

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