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5 Tips For Managing Your To-Do List

the messiest wall everAs you probably know by now, I work freelance in a creative industry (music) and considering my productivity, my creativity and my career are some of my top concerns offline – though they rarely seem to make it onto this blog. I’m going to start sharing a little more into my work process as it’s something I get asked about a lot – woop woop, work tips ahead! Today I’ve compiled some of my top “to-do” list tips – I’ve kept it short, because I feel like I read a lot of “20 ways to get the most out of your mornings” or “30 ways to work productively whilst marathoning Gilmore Girls” articles and when there’s too many ideas it can just end up overwhelming.

Make the To-Do List SNAPPY

I’m so guilty of making to-do lists that include vague tasks such as “research vocal technique” or “sort photos”. I could easily spend a week (or longer) on something like that! If the task will take more than 30 minutes to complete, or is open-ended, then it needs to go on a list of future projects. A to-do list needs to have straightforward tasks with a clear finish point, i.e. “edit photos for latest blog post” is a clear, straightfoward activity, rather than “sort photos” which could mean anything from taking 400 product shots or sorting through the depths of my unsorted harddrive folders *shudders*.

The First Five Minutes

This is great for feeling like you’ve done loads – spend your first half-hour of the working day doing “five minute” tasks that you know will take no time at all. For me those tasks are normally checking social media messages or basic housework stuff like taking out the bins. It’s easy to leave those things until the end of the day or squeeze them into your lunch break because you know how quick they’ll be, but if you just bust them out at the start of the day it leaves a much cleaner task list behind. (Optional soundtrack tip: sing “For the first five minutes task list” over “For the first time in forever” whilst you’re doing this!).

Top-Two Rule

This is a good one for those days where you seem to have endless things to do – after you’ve hopefully cleared your list of five minute tasks, circle the top two things and just do those. Give yourself a free pass on the rest of the list. Our brains focus better when we just have one or two things to get through – chances are, you will get those two things done and be able to move onto the rest of your life without getting overwhelmed.

Question EVERYTHING

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly re-writing your task list or moving stuff around between different days and workloads. It’s easy to just get focused on managing tasks without remembering to question if you still need to actually do those things. Look for overlap and now redundant tasks: if you’ve got a really full schedule then do you still need to be checking that website for new work? Sometimes the answer will be yes, but it’s worth taking the extra two minutes to just question everything on your list.

The Tove Rule

“It was a good idea to do things before you forgot that they had to be done”. – Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

You know those tiny, super-easy but hugely important tasks that just sort of drift in and out of your head? The sort of small, easily forgettable thing that would be catastrophic if you messed up, like messaging a change of deadline to a colleague, or setting an early alarm for an important meeting? There have been so many times where I’ve gone to write something down on a to-do list before I forget it, and then realised it would take me about 30 seconds longer to just DO THE TASK. Items like messaging people, setting reminders and packing important things all fall into this category.

I hope some of you find something useful in here! What are your favourite ways to manage your to-do list?

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4 Comments

  • Reply Denise

    Oh yes, I found the Tove tip excellent! I try to do that, and normally I succeed, but I am also a fan of lists and sometimes I don’t accomplish all… I loved your post, I also need more concentration and structure sometimes!
    DenisesPlanet.com

    August 13, 2016 at 4:03 pm
  • Reply Gemma

    Super handy tips and always needed : D

    Gemma
    http://www.fadedwindmills.com

    August 13, 2016 at 7:48 pm
  • Reply Priya Pappu

    Loved this post, Laila! I can only imagine how skillful you’ve become at assembling/knocking out a to-do list while being self-employed and doing freelance. I operate with a to-do list (both for work and personal) at all times, so these tips totally resonated with me!! I really appreciate that you gave an example for each tip also. And LOVE the “Tove rule” 🙂

    ♥ perfectly Priya

    August 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm
  • Reply Natasha

    Great advice here Laila, I especially love and can vouch for the first five minutes rule! I always try to get the small, quick tasks out of the way first so I have more time to focus on the bigger things and it works! When I was working, I always used to leave work feeling really productive as I’d managed to check off so much from my list. Will definitely have to try the top two rule as well, as that will probably be really helpful! – Tasha

    August 15, 2016 at 7:31 pm
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