Everyone wants to get a little more done each day. The truth is that you will achieve more once you discover a secret to more productivity—and it comes from preparing a better to-do list.

The to-do list is the simplest, most basic element of any planning system. Everyone makes lists at one time or another, whether it’s for the grocery store, school assignments or a wish list for Santa.

As you integrate planning into your lifestyle, you must embrace the daily to-do list. When used in combination with a weekly or monthly schedule, the daily to-do or task list forms the backbone of your personal planning system.

Begin with time to yourself

Your first step is to write down all the tasks you can foresee having to do today and in the future—this is your master task list. Tasks that you don’t see doing anytime soon can be put on a “Someday” list.

Once you’ve chosen the specific tasks you wish to accomplish today, write them in your planner and organize your list by context. Simply put your work tasks at the top, your home tasks at the bottom and any errands or on-the-go tasks in the middle of your list. Some individuals like to go a step further and differentiate their contexts by using different colored inks.

Categorize your tasks by urgency and importance

Schedule yourself a block of time for creating your daily to-do list at either the beginning or end of each day. Many individuals choose time at the end of the day because they like to have tomorrow’s plan in motion from the minute they wake up. Choose what time works best for you based on your lifestyle.

When it’s time for your planning session, isolate yourself free from distraction and take out a blank planning page or notepad. Run though the essential commitments of your life and write down any current tasks that require action.

Consider the following list a helpful guide to get you started:

  • Appointments
  • Errands
  • Family responsibilities
  • Meetings to attend
  • Personal needs
  • Decisions you must make
  • Emails and phone calls you must attend to
  • Projects you must work on

Evaluate your success

Once you’ve written down these tasks, take time to evaluate your previous day’s activities. Are there holdover tasks you didn’t get done? If so, consider why.

Did you plan too many tasks? This is a common mistake. It’s a good idea to estimate your time on the conservative side. It will keep you from becoming overwhelmed and more often than not it will be a realistic view of your day when taking into account your daily distractions. And, you can always find something new to accomplish if you have time left over.

If you feel you did estimate your time appropriately, now think about whether your tasks were broken down into small, achievable steps. Try taking them one step further. Breaking tasks down is a great way to get the ball rolling and avoid procrastination. While you’re at it, remember to always keep in mind whether you can delegate part of or all of the tasks.

Remove personal avoidance

A final thought to consider is whether there is a specific personal reason that causes you to avoid certain activities. Ask yourself why. Task avoidance often has a specific underlying reason that stems from your personal feelings toward that task. Come to grips with it—it’s a good idea to never move a task forward across to-do lists more than twice without some resolution.

How you approach your to-do list, with detail and purpose, has as much to do with your success as the tasks themselves. Make time for yourself today and maximize the power of your to-do list.

Get more tips on planning, organizing and productivity for every facet of your life by visiting the AT-A-GLANCE Success Center.

[photo by dmachiavello]

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