We’re on a productivity kick these days.

Last week, I wrote about how to Turn Your Procrastination into Productivity.

Today, we want to share our five best To-Do List tips.

If you feel there’s never enough time to do everything on any given day…you’re not alone!

How can you ensure that you’re spending your time wisely and focusing on the right things?

It can be daunting to decide where to focus your energy.

One tool many successful leaders use to get organized and improve focus is to create a To Do list. However, many people use the To Do list in a counter-productive way.

If your To Do list is stressing you out, you’re not using it effectively.

For many of us, the To Do list becomes a defacto measure of self-worth. We create an impossible standard and then use it as an excuse to beat ourselves up. This creates a perpetual cycle of feeling like you’re not doing enough.

Your To Do list should optimize your energy, not drain it.

Here are two of the biggest mistakes people often make with a To Do list:

  1.   Confusing Quality with Quantity.

Many people incorrectly associate self-worth with checking things off their To Do list. If I’m able to complete a lot of things in one day, it must mean I’ve done a good job and, therefore, I’m a good enough person. Right?

We all want validation. Here’s the problem with this – it means that you’re likely to waste your time on low impact, easy to complete tasks just to feel good about what you’ve accomplished. How many of you have spent time on something that was easy and quick, but not very strategic? Was this because you were avoiding the harder, more impactful thing?

We waste time on menial chores and tasks just to have a sense of accomplishment. Over time, this makes us much less effective at our job. Truly successful people find a way to outsource many of these less strategic tasks.

  1.   Using the To Do list as a form of torture.

Do you have a tendency to create a very long To Do list that you can never complete in a single day? And then feel bad about never getting to everything on your list?! If so, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Many of us do this out of habit, and it’s an important habit to break.

Here’s the deal with this subconscious self-flagellation: it wastes a TON of energy.

Every time you even think about a task on your To Do list that hasn’t been accomplished, it drains your energy. So if you have a list that’s 20 items long, and you spend a few minutes every hour stressing about how you haven’t tackled item #19, you’re using an incredible amount of energy and mental stamina just keeping track of, and feeling bad about, all the things you haven’t done! This negative thought pattern tends to hold you back and make you much less productive. Plus, it generally feels crappy. So let’s agree to be done with it.

The Secret to a Successful To Do List.

Here are some straightforward and easy to follow steps to create a powerful and productive daily To Do list:

  1.   Keep it simple.

Your To Do list should have no more than three things on it for a given day. Some of the most highly successful people I know only allow one item on their To Do list each day. This is where the rubber meets the road on focus and prioritization.

If you could only do one thing today to move your business forward, what would that thing be?

Make this the #1 item on your To Do list.

  1.   Write your To Do list the night before.

This helps you start your day with clarity. You know exactly which item you need to complete by 10:00am the next morning.

  1.   First Thing First. (Harness your willpower)

Tackle the first item on your list first thing in the morning when you’re fresh. Research shows our willpower is strongest first thing in the morning. After you’ve effectively prioritized your To Do list, you need to get the biggest, most important task completed before moving on to anything else. It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive. You need to make yourself and your goals a priority. This starts by completing your most high level, strategic action first, before checking your email or responding to phone calls or other requests.

People and technology will always be there to distract you. One study found that Fortune 500 CEOs averaged only twenty-eight uninterrupted, productive minutes a day! To be truly successful, you must set boundaries and make your biggest strategic goals a daily priority.

  1.   Mind Dump.

If you have a hard time limiting your To Do list to a maximum of three things, or your mind keeps wandering as you think about all the other things you “need to do,” I recommend doing a mind dump. Take five minutes, no more, and write down every single thing you can think of that you need to do in the next week (or month!). This can be personal or professional. Write it all down just to get it out of your head. Then put that list away. This is not your To Do list.

This is a data dump, a psychic release.

Your To Do list is the list of your 1-3 most important items that you created the night prior. Re-focus on this list after doing your mind dump by putting the mind dump list in a drawer and forgetting about it. If you aren’t taking action, worrying is just wasting your energy.

  1.   Sometimes Small is Big.

Be strategic about your energy. Occasionally, a small and menial task that isn’t highly strategic will start to take up an incredible amount of mindspace. Maybe you haven’t put this item on your To Do list because it’s not one of the three most important tasks to move your career or life forward, but over time, you notice yourself thinking about this one small, annoying thing because it’s really bugging you. Maybe it’s that stain on your carpet at home, cleaning off your desk, doing that ROI analysis, or buying that late wedding present for a friend.

Sometimes, a small To Do becomes a huge energy suck because we’ve put it off so long that it truly bothers us. In this case, it is one of the three most important things for you to do that day because releasing all the anxiety you have built up will move you forward more than anything else.

Ask yourself now – would doing a task you’re avoiding take less energy than you’re spending on the avoidance? Is there something you’ve been procrastinating that would free up a lot of energy if you just went and did it?

If so, put that item on your To Do list for tomorrow. And do it.

Once that draining task is done, you’ll discover more energy to put towards the next strategic item on your To Do list.

If you follow these five steps, you’ll increase your productivity while decreasing your negative mind chatter.

It’s a win/win.

Try it out for yourself and let us know in the comments BELOW what you think!

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