If you're anything like me, you have a lot of responsibilities. Carrying all those responsibilities around in your head can be disconcerting, so you need to organize them somehow. Putting them all into on a to-do list frees up valuable mental space, because once a tedious task is on your list, you don't have to worry about it anymore.
This can quickly become disorganized-- especially if you are adding to it constantly-- so we generally come up with some sort of categorization system. At work, my team will mark things as "P1" (emergency) to "P5" (not important). As expected, the system is cluttered with P1s.
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg Mckeown reminds us that priority means one thing. "Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities." He adds that if we don't consciously choose where our time is best spent, others will do it for us. And soon, "we'll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important."
How can we tell what actually is important, though? Here are some tips to break through the noise and make better to-do lists:
1. Empty the trash.
Go through each task on your list, and ask yourself "Will this make my life easier or better in the future?", "Is this positively serving me?" and "Is this important?" If the answers are no, remove them from your list.
In a business or product context, you simply need to think about how the business will benefit from you completing the task. If you can't think of a positive reason, then it isn't worth your time.
Determine which tasks are really the most important (to yourself, your family or your business' wellbeing), and mark them from most to least important.
Realistically, you won't be able to deal with everything on your list quickly, so add the most urgent items to your calendar and to-do list and start a backlog for things you would like to do when you have time.
3. Automate whatever you can.
If you're already strapped for time and disorganized on top of that, it can be hard to find time to even create your lists. Not to worry, there are automated tools to help you.
Zapier has popular integrations with Gmail, Evernote, Google Sheets, Asana, and others, so if you get a text message, tweet, Facebook message, email, or anything you need to follow up on, you can just click a button and it will append it to your existing list.
4.Change your behaviors.
Whether your aim is to reach inbox zero, gain more time back in your day, or just be more organized, in order to keep your task list functioning properly you will need to create new habits.
One way to stay on top is to schedule your most important tasks for the time of day when you'll have the most energy. For example, a morning person may want to schedule all their sales calls in one solid block early in the day.
Over time, you'll notice that your once-cluttered task list will be replaced with only items that are valuable to you. And by getting organized, you'll reach your goals in no time.