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7 Easy Ways to Tackle Your To-Do List

I write a to-do list at the start of just about every day, but it can be tedious so I look for ways to shake up the process. Here are some ideas I find useful (in no particular order):

1) ABC Method — Try the ABC Method in which you write down the tasks you need to do and categorize them by:

  • A = Critical to your goals and must be done that day.
  • B = These are less urgent but should be started after your A’s are done.
  • C = These are nice-to-do tasks that can be done if you’ve got some extra time

2) The 1-to-10 Stress Method

  • List down all the to-dos that are stressing you out at the moment
  • Rank them 1 to 10 in which 10 is stressing you out the most and 1 the least
  • Tackle the tasks ranked 10 first, 9 next, 8 after that, etc.

3) Andreessen’s 3 to 5 Things on an Index Card — Marc Andreessen found it valuable to write down 3 to 5 things that you want to get done the following day. He does the following:

  • The night before he writes the 3 to 5 most things he wants to get done on an index card
  • He wakes up and tries to do those things
  • For anything else he does (not on the list), he writes those things down on the opposite side of the index card and calls them his “anti-to-do” list.

I believe Andreessen first wrote about this on his old blog, but I found it in this old archive of Andreessen’s posts.

4) Reverse Engineer Your Long-Term Goals — For you long-term thinkers, check out the last few steps of The 10 Maniacal Steps I Use to Set Goals — they are monthly, weekly and daily to-do lists. If you can be clear about setting your long-term goals, you can simply work backwards from those goals to come up with your to-dos.

5) Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants of Time Management System — List out your tasks in one of 4 quadrants:

  • Important & Urgent
  • Important & Not Urgent
  • Not Important & Urgent
  • Not Important & Not Urgent

Check out this example of the Quadrant System.

Covey believes that the most impactful tasks fall into Quadrant 2 while Quadrant 1 will always be necessary.

Quadrant 3 should be minimized or eliminated and don’t even bother with Quadrant 4. Good example here:

6) 90-Day Pavlina Method — In his Do It Now post, he writes:

Take a moment to stop and write down a snapshot description of how you want your life to be ninety days from now. What will your monthly income be? How much will you weigh? Who will your friends be? Where will you be in your career? What will your relationship be like? What will your web site look like? Be specific. Absolute clarity will give you the edge that will keep you on course.

Pavlina then goes on to explain his day-to-day approach to task lists:

Instead of using some elaborate organizing system, I stuck with a very basic pen and paper to-do list. My only organizing tool was a notepad where I wrote down all my assignments and their deadlines. I didn’t worry about doing any advance scheduling or prioritizing. I would simply scan the list to select the most pressing item which fit the time I had available. Then I’d complete it, and cross it off the list.

7) Purpose Statement Method — In my post on How to Write a Purpose Statement, the 3rd step is writing “I will” statements which are really just to-dos to support whatever purpose you are going after. Your purpose can be a project or even a time period (e.g. “The Purpose of My Day”)

So, try writing a purpose statement about your project or day and out of that will come very precise  to-dos.

Other To-Do List Tips

  • On procrastination, Andreessen adds, if you are procrastinating then simply do other stuff (use your procrastination to  get other cool stuff done)
  • Do your most important tasks first. Mark Twain famously said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” (Brian Tracy named his book “Eat That Frog” as a metaphor for preventing procrastination).
  • Add the minutes you want to budget for each to-do task and add up the minutes so you can see if it’s doable in a day (you often may be trying to get too much done)
  • Be happy with 70% completion rates (a Google exec told me his team is happy to get 70%+ of their tasks done).
  • Use an automated tool like Evernote or Wanderlist.
  • “Think Big, Start Small” — Create categories of stuff to-do but when writing down the actual tasks then chunk them down to smaller items.
  • When you do something you’re super-proud of, list it down in a log of achievements.
  • I use the “Notes” function of my iPhone and Mac computers to jot down quick thoughts and lists (I have it synced with my Gmail so that I get an email each time I do this).
  • The more you write down, the more you will get done. For example, I have lists of things such as:
    • A list of articles to write on
    • An Evernote set of lists of cool “Day Trips” to take with Jane, “Songs to play on guitar with Larry,” and “Restaurants” to visit.
    • Google Doc list of all people I think might invest in Ongig.
    • Awesome Web site features and function that inspire me.
    • People I’d like to work with one day (including people I’d consider reporting to).
    • List of generic trademarks, famous people by personality type, awesome mission/vision statements, etc.

There is a great post on to-do lists here at LifeHacker.

Crush it!