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3 Ways to Reboot Your To-Do List

Topics: Career Advice

There are two major schools of thought about to-do lists. Some claim they’re a waste of time, a distraction at best and confusing at worst. Others can’t imagine life—especially work-life—without them.

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If you’re in the latter camp, chances are that you have a system. But, you could still benefit from shaking things up now and then, especially if you’re finding that a lot of your to-dos never get to-done.

One of these alternatives to the traditional to-do list just might do the trick:

Skip the To-Do list; Embrace the Calendar

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“Stop living from a stressful to-do list and start organizing your world from your calendar,” suggests James Carbary at The Huffington Post. “Rather than a slew of tasks on paper, which have no context as to complexity or time-requirements, set aside time blocks on your calendar to complete those tasks.”

This accomplishes two things: it reminds you that your work is more important than the stuff that fills most of your workday (e.g. meetings) and it requires you to be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a given eight-plus hours of work. End result? Fewer hanging tasks and better priorities.

Follow the 1-3-5 Rule

“On any given day, assume that you can only accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things,” suggests Alex Cavoulacos at The Muse. “…Before leaving work, take a few minutes to define your 1-3-5 for the next day, so you’re ready to hit the ground running in the morning.”

Again, your priorities should become a lot clearer, and your chances of accomplishing your goals a lot better. Plus, using a system like this will help you figure out if you’re seriously overworked: if you try to narrow down your list, and find that you have four Big Things, you probably need to talk to your manager about paring things down.

Obviously, this means that not everything will make it onto your list, and that’s OK. The point is to keep your actual to-do list free of things you can’t accomplish today, and power through your tasks more efficiently. The rest can occupy another list: “To Do … Later.”

Use the “Ivy Lee” Method

The best productivity advice is often timeless, as this story reminds us. Over at Fast Company, James Clear writes about the nearly 100-year-old method invented by productivity consultant Ivy Lee in the early 1900s:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

Lee’s method worked so well for Charles M. Schwab at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, he wrote Lee a check for $25,000—that’s $400,000 in today’s money. Time being money, and all that, it might be pretty valuable to you, too.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your favorite to-do list method? Tell us about it at Twitter or leave a comment.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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