As a communications professional, l don’t know how I would function without my daily to-do list.
It truly keeps me sane, helping me juggle my multiple work tasks and clients, as well as my personal life. But in the spirit of spring cleaning season, I wanted to take a closer look and declutter some of the ink and highlighter chaos. Does my current list really make me as productive and efficient as possible?
Enter, Paula Rizzo -- one of my favorite journalists. She’s an Emmy Award-winning senior video producer at FOX News and an expert on to-do lists, productivity, and time management. She’s also the author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed. I asked Paula to share a few to-do list tips to help me be more efficient at work and to carve out more time to do the things I love in 2017.
Have a read and see if your list could benefit from a refresh, too.
Q: What top three things should every effective to-do list have?
- Very Specific Tasks – Instead of writing “reply to emails”, write “e-mail Jane about event”. Set yourself up for success by knowing exactly what you need to do to carve out enough time accordingly.
- Categories – Keep your to-dos in separate categories. For example, every list I make has work to-dos on the left and home to-dos on the right. It helps your brain figure out what to tackle first.
- Daily Deadlines – I create a “before lunch” and an “after lunch” list, due to my own personal style. I like to write and do creative work before lunch, and then do calls and interviews in the afternoon. Figure out when you work best and set up your list that way.
Q: Do you recommend outlining your list in the morning or at night?
A: Every night before I leave my desk, I make my to-do list for the following day. That way, when I get in the next morning I can hit the ground running. Even if there are distractions or last-minute things that pop up, I know what my main goals and intentions are for the day.
Q: What are helpful ways to prioritize your list, especially when you work on multiple clients?
A: Use deadlines to push you through. Take large end goals and break them down into smaller goals and tasks, assigning those to yourself vs. the big looming project. Also, be mindful of how long tasks will actually take you to be realistic with timing and succeed.
Q: What is an efficient way to factor in last-minute, time-sensitive to-dos?
A: Sometimes just pausing to set up a plan before jumping in is the most productive thing you can do. Write it down and take a deep breath. Also, know when to ask for help. Don’t always feel like you are the only person who can handle the task.
Q: How do daily meetings affect your to-do lists?
A: I always make lists of next steps in meetings. When you’re in a meeting with a client - already be in list mode thinking through what’s next. What has to happen when you leave this meeting? Thinking in this way will save you precious time, and you’ll be able to get more done sooner.
Q: What are some bad to-do list habits?
- The Same Items Keep Popping Up – Outsource it or get rid of the item all together. Remember, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Look at your list and figure out which items could be delegated to someone else.
- Your List Makes You Anxious – Rewrite your list. Chances are the disorder of your list is making you feel flustered. Organize your list one day at a time or hour-by-hour. Try a few different types of list techniques (by day, by project, by deadline) and see which one sticks. Just give it a try for at least five days before dropping it for the next system.
- You Have a Never-ending List – Make a daily to-do list where you prioritize each item. Then, determine which tasks need to be dealt with first and put those on a separate list. Having a smaller list will set you up for small wins that will boost your confidence and keep you moving from task to task.
Q: Does the medium matter? (e.g. notebook, daily planner, iPhone notes, e-mail, etc.)
A: You should experiment with different mediums to find what works for you. Everyone wants ‘the answer’ for what is going to make them most productive, but the truth is you have to know yourself and how you work best. My advice is to try a medium out for two weeks and see if it best serves you. It might even be a mix.
Interested in more helpful to-do list tips and tricks from Paula? Sign up for her Listful Thinking Masterclass (4 weeks of live training!) to sharpen your time management skills, list making techniques, and day-to-day prioritization strategies.