To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide to Creating To-Do Lists That Work!, by Damon Zahariades (2016), aims to provide approaches specifically designed to help you organize, manage and address every task and responsibility on your routine in a timely fashion. Millions of people use to-do lists that set them up for failure. It doesn't matter how hard they try, because at the end of each day there will be a huge list of unfinished tasks.
The good news is that there is a simple solution for those cases. It is just a matter of managing your workload and responsibilities at the office and home. This approach is detailed in To-Do List Formula, a guide you may use to create an effective personal task management system.
If you are tired of creating to-do lists that regularly disappoint you, maybe it’s time to make a positive change. Damon Zahariades, the author, is the guy behind artofproductivity.com, a website devoted to showing you how to hack your day to get more things done. He owns a marketing agency and also creates action plans that tell others how to increase productivity. So, shall we begin?
The Part I: Why You’re Not Finishing Your List of To-Do Items cites eight reasons why you are failing to get through your daily to-do lists:
- You misunderstand the goal of to-do lists: their real purpose is to organize your tasks and projects, highlighting what’s important.
- You neglect to assign deadlines. ““A to-do list without deadlines is a wish list,” Zahariades says. Deadlines prioritize tasks and drives us to action.
- Your lists are too long. Presenting too many options can be distracting.. Lists only grow longer every day, and the author considers it a terrible approach to task management.
- Your lists have too much variability. As you use your lists as a “brain dump”, your lists grow longer. That means you will start taking more time to get things done.
- You give yourself too many options. You wake up with limited storage of cognitive resources and use it too quickly. Then, you will fall into decision fatigue. It’s very hard to make decisions!
- You neglect to add context for each task. Most to-do lists lack context, making it difficult to reason through which one needs more attention. If your lists don't offer context, they are pretty ineffective.
- Your tasks are defined too broadly. Tasks must be tightly defined, including a clear point to start and another clear point to end.
- Your tasks are not attached to specific goals. “Goals spur us to take action”, according to the author: “We’re less inclined to procrastinate when we’re able to predict the positive result.”
Learning how to create and organize, as Zahariades suggests, reduces the stress that impairs productivity. In Part II: 10 Most Popular To-Do List Systems, the author mentions the most common (and flawed) to-do lists:
- The Massive, All-Inclusive List. It is essentially a brain dump. It does not work, primarily because low priority tasks get too much attention here.
- The “Task + Starting Date + Due Date” List. This approach to creating to-do lists introduces a starting date on which you should begin working on the tasks, so you can accomplish their deadlines.
- The To-Do List Twosome: Master Task List + Daily Task List. Basically, you have a master task list (in general) and daily task lists.
- The “3+2” Strategy. In this strategy, you choose three big tasks and two small ones to work on during the day.
- The 1-3-5 Rule. It is an extrapolation of the “3+2 strategy”. Here, you choose one big task, three medium-sized tasks, and five small tasks.
- The Project-Based System. This system entails categorizing your to-do items, each to a corresponding project. In the end, you’ll have multiple lists, one per project.
- The 3-MIT Approach. MIT stands for “most important task.” As its name implies, you select three high-priority tasks to focus on during your day. Whatever else happens, you must get these three items done.
- The Kanban Method. Grab a cork board and a stack of Post-It notes. Make three columns on your board. Title the left column "To Do." Title the middle column "Doing." Title the right column "Done."
- The Matrix System. A matrix is made up of four quadrants titled as (i) Important - Urgent, (ii) Important - Not Urgent, (iii) Not Important - Urgent and (iv) Not Important - Not Urgent.
- Getting Things Done (GTD). Finally, David Allen’s Getting Things Done is one of the most celebrated task management systems in use today. In a daily basis, you have lots of stuff swimming inside your head. GTD seeks to get this stuff out of your head and into a list. It makes each item actionable. Once bullet points are in a master list, you organize them according to context: create multiple shortlists and place topics where they belong. In the end, you perform a weekly review to stay on top.
In what's probably the most important section of the book, Part III: How To Create The Perfect To-Do List, Zahariades enumerates ten steps that help to build an effective to-do list system. Those steps reduce stress, eliminating your frustration and helping you to focus and to avoid distractions along the way.
- Isolate current tasks from future tasks.
- Define your tasks by desired outcomes.
- Break the projects down to individual tasks.
- Assign a deadline to each task.
- Limit the number of current tasks to seven.
- Organize tasks by project, type, or location.
- Trim your list of unnecessary tasks: wishes, unclear tasks, trivial tasks and resolutions.
- Estimate the amount of time each task will take to complete.
- Lead each task with an active verb (start, buy, finish, check, call etc.): they tell us exactly what to do.
- Note which tasks require input from others.
Your master task list, context lists, and daily to-do lists are components of a broader system: their effectiveness depends on that system’s integrity. For that, Part IV: How To Maintain A Well-Oiled To-Do List System shows us, step by step, tips on how to maintain an effective to-do list system.
- Keep a “tiny tasks” batch list. The purpose of a batch list is to organize all of your tiny tasks – items that take less than ten minutes to complete –) in one place. Tiny tasks shouldn’t remain on your master list.
- Remain vigilant against feeling overwhelmed. You’ll be able to gauge your availability and take on new tasks - or deflect them.
- Define your to-do lists by context. You should associate a task to a project, to the activity type (e.g., analytical or creative), and to whether there are any location-based constraints attached to it.
- Conduct weekly reviews: First, gather all of your to-do lists and do a brain dump of all the tasks and projects floating around your head. Then, break down new projects into individual tasks, and separate new tasks according to context (project, type, location). The next step is to clear out your email inbox. Review master and context-based lists. After that, note the tasks that are both important and urgent, and note which tasks you’re waiting for input from others. Reevaluate your current deadlines for high-value tasks, after doing so, assign deadlines to the new tasks you’ve added to the master and the context-based lists. Finally, review your calendar for the coming week.
- Update your list of goals, as they help you to focus on what’s important.
- Avoid getting bogged down in methodology. Trying different systems is really important, and it is the only way to define which systems complement your workflow.That being said…
- Build and follow a system that works for YOU.
- Be consistent. Consistency requires habit change. It is the key to success in any endeavor:
- the 10 steps to creating an effective to-do list system.
- Memorize the eight tips for ensuring your system runs smoothly over the long run.
- Buy a wall calendar that displays the entire year on a single sheet.
- Apply the steps and tips you’ve learned to your master list, context-based lists and daily to-do lists.
And, finally, Part V: Offline vs. Online: Where Should You Create Your To-Do Lists? points out a never-ending debate about creating and organizing your to-do lists using digital tools or using good old pen and paper.
The case for pen and paper:
- We are more likely to remember it.
- A notepad will adapt seamlessly to your preferred method of jotting notes. It’s perfect for linear organization.
- You avoid worrying about yet another piece of software.
- A notepad is easy to carry.
- There’s nothing like the tactile experience of using a pen to cross off a completed to-do item.
The case for keeping your to-do lists online:
- Today’s apps make it very easy to organize your task lists by context (from Todoist and Evernote to Trello and Asana).
- You can easily move to-do items from list to list.
- Many online apps allow you to set alarms and reminders.
- You can organize projects and tasks in a nested structure. It improves visualization of your workload.
- Tools allow you to integrate your to-do lists with your calendar.
How to incorporate your calendar into your to-do lists:
- At the end of the day, review your calendar for the following one. Determine when you’ll be in meetings, conference calls or otherwise unavailable.
- Estimate how much time you’ll be able to allocate to your to-do items. Build the following day’s to-do list, based on your availability.
- Think of your day as a series of 30-minute time slots. These periods should be blocked off on your calendar.
- Schedule time to work on your to-do items during the periods that are not blocked off.
What is a Done List? Should you keep one?
- A done list seeks to fix frustration, stress and guilt for failing to complete important, high-value tasks.
- If you need motivation to work on tasks, a done list can be a sound strategy.
- If you don’t need motivation to take action, a done list may be unnecessary. It may even hurt your productivity since it’s another list for you to manage.
- Maintain a done list for two weeks and note how it influences you.
How to create a Done List?
- Your done list should not replace your to-do list.
- Write down every task you complete during the course of your day. Its size doesn’t matter.
- Review your done list after you’ve officially called it a day.
- Before you tackle the new day’s to-do list, look at yesterday’s done list. Note how many tasks you completed: use this as motivation to be just as productive during the current day.
By understanding all those tips and steps, your self-designed task management strategy should be tailored in such a way that works for you.Your to-do list system should complement your workflow. It should suit your methods of getting things done. In addition, the purpose of your task lists, both master task and daily to-do lists, isn’t to make sure you get everything done. Rather, their purpose is to make sure you’re focusing your limited time and attention on your most important work and tasks.
Being productive isn’t about keeping yourself busy. It is about getting the right things done based on your short and long-term goals. You have a million things to do today. It’s not impossible to organize them effectively. Do so day after day without fail. Consistency is the oil that keeps the engine running.
Are you tired of creating to-do lists that constantly disappoint you? Do you want to learn the correct strategy and to enjoy increased productivity, less stress and even more free time during the process? Now it is the time to make a positive change. Then let’s explore this microbook together!