The Art of To-Do Lists

I was going to name this article “The Joy of Checking off Little Check Boxes”, but I figured this was more appropriate. Checking off little check boxes is only joyful if the list on which you’re checking them is well-made, and if the boxes actually mean something.

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Making a to-do list isn’t difficult. Simply write all the things you need to get done on a paper or on your notes app on your phone. Right? Welllll… sorta. Have you ever had the feeling where one day you’ve worked a ton but you got nothing done? You know you did a lot, but you have nothing to show for it and your to-do list certainly doesn’t look like it’s getting any shorter. That’s probably because your list wasn’t well made.

A good to-do list needs to have two things.

First, the tasks on it need to take more than a minute. If the tasks take less than a minute (or a few minutes), you can probably lump them into one bigger task. For example, “confirm lunch with the marketing person” and “thank Maria for sending over the shipment” can both fall into one task called “Answer immediately relevant emails” or something similar.

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Second, the tasks have to be short enough that you don’t feel like you’re working on them for more than half a day. The reason it feels like you’ve “been working all day but didn’t get anything done” is because the tasks you’re working on are just too big. For example, “research different artificial sweeteners” can be broken into

  • “determine which artificial sweeteners to research”
  • “find some sources on sucralose”
  • “find some sources on aspartame”
  • “find some sources on Acesulfame K”

and so on.

If the tasks on your list are not too long and not too short, and are actually meaningful toward reaching your goal, you’ll feel more productive when you accomplish those tasks.

I think that while it’s really important to know what your goals and tasks are, it’s equally important to feel like you’re actually reaching something when you work. It’s taken me a little while to get to the point where I feel that most days, my lists are well made and my work is productive, but now I feel confident about it and I’m going to go check off “write an article about to-do lists” from my to-do list.  ?

Sometimes, You Can Just Move a Little Faster

I’m assuming you’re expecting some long elaboration on the title of this article… maybe I’m talking about work, production processes, maybe fitness? Nope.

This is something I realized, not sure how, not sure why, and I’m not really sure when I actually implement it. But sometimes, just sometimes, I realize that I’m just not moving as quickly as I could be. Emptying the dishwasher, for example. Going down the stairs to put the garbage out, or even just getting ready in the morning. Sometimes if you just take a second to realize the speed at which you’re doing stuff, you’ll realize that you could be going a hell of a lot quicker, and there’s simply no loss. It’s not even more difficult most of the time!

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I get the feeling that a lot of people will read this and think “uhhh, yeah no sh** dude” but I find that it occurs to me at random times, and when I do speed up, things go impressively quickly. Then I imagine what life would be like if I just did all of my monotonous tasks quicker than usual, and I think about how much time I would save. Anyone who knows me knows I’m huge on efficiency and doing things the right / logical way, and this is just an example of my realization that we simply don’t move as quickly as we could.

Counter-argument, you say? I’m tired! I’m lazy! Yes, those are valid arguments. But the biggest thing that I’ve noticed, is that it actually doesn’t feel like it takes more energy to speed up just a little bit. Just enough to give you those extra five minutes in the morning, enough to let you take an extra minute at the coffee machine (do people have watercoolers anymore?), enough to get you to bed just before that time where you look at your clock and you say “Damn! Past ___ o’clock again! I really need to go to sleep earlier.”

So, my friends, my message is simple. Think about it a couple of times when you’re doing simple, generally monotonous things, and just speed up. Juuust a lil bit. Try it sometime… either I’m a bit OCD and a productivity-freak or maybe it actually makes sense.