Expert Time Management Simplified, Part 3

How would you like to become a list-building virtuoso?

In the 3rd and last part of our series on professional time management, we’re going to expand our collection of guidelines on list-building to ensure that you will be able to maximise the benefits of this “life hack” technique.

The Best Practices in Creating To-Do Lists

  1. Keep It Short & Sweet – I understand that many of you have a lot on their plate and initially, your to-do lists will be long and complex.

However, as you continue refining your grasp of prioritising tasks and delegating work to others, you will soon discover that life (like your to-do list) can be so much simpler.

Strive to make your main to-do list, day list and future list short and concise. If your to-do lists become too detailed, you may feel demotivated to accomplish each of the items.

How many items should be in your to-do lists?

As a rule of thumb, I often limit my total to-do items to 20 items. If I have to add one more to this list, I often check off 5 or more to get ahead.

Again, listing down things won’t make you a good time manager. The list is the tool that will help you manage your time more efficiently. However, if you end up procrastinating or abandoning your to-do lists, then they won’t be any help at all.

  1. Don’t Add Commonplace Activities – A to-do list is actually a way to manage your time when additional activities begin to pile up.

What shouldn’t you put in your to-do lists?

With this in mind, you don’t have to add things like “have breakfast” or “drive to work” on your to-do lists. You already know for sure that you’re going to perform these tasks, so it is actually counterproductive to list them as “to do” items.

Instead of adding activities and events that are bound to happen because they always do, focus on upcoming tasks that require more time than your usual tasks, like going to the dentists or getting an appointment somewhere.

  1. Hammer the Hard Tasks First – There was a time when I focused too much on the easy tasks that I had little or no time left for the more difficult ones. It was very challenging to get back on track because the items left on my to-do list were all difficult and time-consuming.

You can avoid this scenario completely by balancing tough tasks and easy tasks. The first thing that you should try to accomplish in your day should a difficult or time-consuming task.

Keep working on a difficult task until you’ve finished it or you finished at least 50% of the work needed to complete it.

Don’t start on a task only to leave it a few minutes later because it’s difficult. The difficulty level of a task is a big determinant of how much time you should spend working on it. As a task’s difficulty increases, so does the time you need to accomplish it.

  1. Be Flexible and Adaptable – Flexibility is the most important trait that you can develop when you are managing your time. If you are inflexible with your own schedule, you may feel overwhelmed and frustrated at all the important things that you have yet to accomplish.

I know that I just asked you to perform at least one difficult task per day, but you must apply this guideline only when you’re prepared for the work ahead.

You know yourself better than anyone else on the planet so be mindful of how you feel and what you’re thinking when you’re planning the days ahead.

  1. Work With Your Organic Schedule – Each person’s organic or natural working schedule is unique. Some individuals feel pumped up to work right after lunch time. People like me work better in the hours that lead to midnight. And still some individuals are more efficient workers when they set out to do their tasks after having breakfast.

If you are extremely productive in the evening, schedule your most difficult tasks in a way that they coincide with your “wave of productivity”.

Easier tasks should be reserved for those times of the day when your energy is a little low and you can only handle smaller tasks.

Of course, some people don’t have the option to move their work around. You can remedy this problem by putting “rest gaps” in between difficult tasks so you have a recovery period. This will ensure that you will not be overwhelmed with more difficult tasks even if you’re not mentally conditioned to do them at a particular time.