A work-from-home parent; a student; a senior executive; a job seeker; a businessman; a minister. Whatever your current status or profession, there are things you can do to increase your daily productivity. Ideally, daily tasks are or should be small steps towards achieving a goal or an objective. A simple tool that I have made into a habit over the years is use of lists. It is amazing how putting something down in writing creates the motivation and focus to get it done.
Here is a list of the lists that I regularly use to keep me focused on daily tasks and to track my productivity. There are several apps that one can use to make lists on computer or smart phone. I keep it simple and use the good old notebook.
- To Do List. If you are prone to procrastination, a To Do list is a great tool. I should know because I am a procrastinator. I can easily put off breathing for tomorrow if I could! I started using To Do lists several years ago. Now it is a habit – I make a list every morning. I keep it simple by listing only the tasks that I can accomplish within that day. If I have a project that requires a lot of time, I typically list it and indicate how much time I will allocate to the project on that day. I check off completed tasks and cross out tasks that I do not get to at the end of the day.
- Focus list. There are days when you wake up with so much energy, you want to wash the curtains and iron them! Then there those days when you are a scatterbrain and cannot seem to focus on a single task without your mind wondering of to the next thing. Have you ever started on a task that was supposed to take 45 minutes, only to find it not completed three hours later? That is when a Focus List comes to your rescue. My Focus Lists look a lot like a To Do List but it is more detailed. For example, if I am reviewing a document that also requires approval and submission to someone else, my To Do List might simply read “Review Document XYZ”, without listing minor incidental steps. My Focus List will have all the sub-steps: (a) Print Document XYZ (b) Review (c) Send comments to XXX (d) Approve (e) scan and file. What that does is to not only keep my mind focused, but I get motivated as I check off the mini tasks. There is a sense of accomplishment as each subtask is completed. I do not make a To Do List and a Focus List every day. On days when I need to focus, the Focus Lists replaces the To Do list
- Time Management List. This list looks like the To Do list. The difference is that instead of starting with the tasks in mind, I start with the time. I do not use them every day, but they have come in handy when time is a factor. I have used a Time Management list, for example, when we host people at home for dinner. I know dinner must be served at a specific time. I make a list of items that will be on the menu and indicate how much time each item will take to make. I can easily identify dishes that can be made concurrently. If I determine that I cannot make every item on the menu and still have the food in time for the guests, I make modifications to the menu.
- Don’t Forget This list. This is a general category for lists that serve as reminders or checklists. A grocery shopping list is a good example. When I am traveling, I make a list of everything that I will need to park for the trip.
- Back Burner List. Back Burner list constitutes the things that are screaming for your attention but they are not necessarily urgent. It is a great way to avoid getting distracted. Say you are on your To Do list and you are on a roll. Then you remember that you have a bill that needs to be paid in the next couple of days. Then the thought creeps in, “I had better make that payment now before I forget”. Before you know it, you have abandoned what you were doing and are off to make that payment. You lose focus because of a task that could have waited. That is where the Back Burner list comes in. As soon as the distracting thought comes, take a pen and list the associated task/activity down. My Back Burner List is usually on the same page as my To Do or Focus List. I simply draw an additional column and add the Back Burner items, and a time frame. Once it is listed down, it ceases to be a distraction because it is ‘acknowledged’.
Do you have a tool that you use to increase productivity? I would love to hear about it!2