Writing a To-Do list (also known as task list) is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your productivity, having a task list is the first step in taking control of your time and is required by just about any time management technique out there.
The trick is to organize your task list in such a way that it actually helps you get things done faster, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of creating an ineffective task list or wasting so much time working on the task list there’s no time left over for actual work.
Here are some simple rules that will help you create an effective task list:
Write down what you have to do, break down large tasks into smaller ones so all tasks take less than 2 hours (or whatever works for you, the trick is to have tasks you can complete in one "session").
Every task must be do-able, they must be something you can actually work on and complete – big abstract tasks (“get a PhD”, “improve sales”, “make a million dollars”, etc.) do not belong in your task list, figure out the first step you have to take to get to your destination and add that to your task list.
Every task must be something you can complete now, if a task requires you to do something else first that “something else” must also be on your task list – before the task that requires it.
A task that requires someone else to do something first (for example, if you need a co-worker’s input before you can start) shouldn’t be on your main task list either, write it down somewhere else so you don’t forget and add it to the task list only when you can actually start working on it.
Don't waste too much time writing your task list, it doesn't have to be complete – you can always add more tasks later. Just take the next thing you have to do and break it down into bite size tasks.
Now prioritize the tasks, don't get fancy, divide them into high, medium and low priority, do it quickly, you don't have to be accurate.
Pick one of the tasks with the highest priority, always pick from the highest priority only, never do less important work before more important work.
Now work on this task until it's done – don’t work on any other task until this one is complete (also don't read blogs or play solitaire until the task is complete, just work on that one task).
When the task is complete cross it out if your list is on paper or deleting it if your list is on the computer (or click the “mark as complete” button if you use yaTimer). Now repeat the previous three steps until the list is empty or it's time to go home.
Avoid postponing tasks, if a task should be done just do it – even if you don’t want to, on the other hand, if a task doesn’t have to done you can just remove it from your task list.
Don’t confuse managing your task list with actual productive work, adding more details than the minimum you require to finish the task or working on accurate fine grained prioritization is just an advanced form of procrastination
Following those rules won’t solve all your productivity problems – but they will really help you start taking control of your time.
Obviously, we think you should use yaTimer - our easy to use time tracking software, it has a very nice task list display, adding and rearranging tasks is quick and easy – and you can also track how much time you actually spend on each task.