Write a to-do list
Finalize May budget
Meet with Rachel
Reorganize files on computer by client
Write birthday email to Tova
Pick up dry cleaning
Make a menu for Shabbos
Write comments for graphic designer of new website
Damon Zahariades, the author of The To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide to Creating To-Do Lists That Work, would argue that there are a lot of things wrong with the above list.
First, let me explain what he thinks are the qualities of a good to-do list:
It gives you control over your workday. You know what you need to work on and what needs to go on the backburner.
It includes deadlines! A good to-do list will show the day’s top priorities based on importance and urgency.
Does the May budget need to be completed today? What is the deadline for the first draft? Zahariades explains that deadlines are the enemies of procrastination. After all, Parkinson’s law states that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
It doesn’t include things like, “write a to-do list” just so you can immediately check it off.
It includes time budgets so that can you assess how long it will take you to get something done. Therefore, if organizing the files on the computer by client will take 12 hours, then perhaps today’s goal will be to organize clients with last name’s A-E. The same goes for the meeting with Rachel, how long does the writer of the list imagine that meeting will take? With that in mind, she can budget how long she will have for everything else on the list.
In his book, Zahariades gives multiple different strategies for creating better, more efficient to-do lists while recognizing that not everyone works in the same way. That said, there are certain hallmarks of a productive to-do list that everyone can benefit from: priorities, time budgets, and deadlines.
Zahariades does a lot of research on productivity and recently wrote an article about five productivity myths. Below, I’ve broken them down four of them for you so you can better understand what might be holding you back from being your most productive self!
Myth #1: Multitasking makes you efficient. People think that when they move from task to task quickly or even work on two or three tasks at once, they are being more efficient. Research actually shows that when you switch between tasks, you lose concentration and your brain needs a few seconds or minutes to refocus on the new task at hand. That means that instead of being more productive, you are likely being less productive by working on multiple things at once.
Myth #2: The early bird catches the worm. Not everyone is a morning person. I, for one, do my best work at night when there are few distractions. If you are a morning person, by all means, do your hardest work in the morning. However, there are people who are more productive at night, and those people should listen to their internal clock and save their hardest work for when they are best able to focus.
Myth #3: Keep your nose to the grindstone to get things done. “Just keep at it!” “Don’t stop until you’ve finished.” That’s frequent advice we get in order to get things done. And, sometimes that can work, but recent research has revealed that willpower is a limited resource. This means that if you are working really hard not to give up on one thing (your diet, your essay that’s due, or finalizing May’s budget), you might not have the willpower to control yourself in other situations.
The solution? When you find your motivation flagging, give yourself a short break. Stand up, get a cup of tea, write a quick email to a friend, or do something else that gives your willpower a break. This will give you replenished energy to sit and work on the necessary project.
Myth #4: You should never work at home. I wrote that sentence while at home, working! And while it is true that they say that home has a lot of distractions – the family, the laundry, the fridge, the friends who might knock on your door – there are a lot of people who actually work more productively and efficiently from home. A recent study of employees in China randomly chose some employees to work from the office and some to work from home. Those who worked from home actually spent more time working and did better work in that time. Why? They reported they were happier working from home. Does that mean everyone should work at home? Of course not! Some people work better in an office or even a coffee shop, but there are people who are most productive when they work from home.
If your goal is to be more productive, perhaps one of the first things to put on your to-do list is to learn how to write better ones! And then understand your own personal productivity myths and facts. You’ll ultimately make more time for all the other things in your life that you like to do.
Register now for a mindsets and ADHD workshop by Dr. Robert Brooks on November 13, 2018. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.