Imagine having a complete picture of your day that kept you focused and on task, boosting both efficiency and productivity for the benefit of your business. There’s no magic involved, only a delicate art form—keeping a business to-do list.
Bloomberg Businessweek says, “Scattering your tasks and reminders between a variety of post-it’s, notepads, multiple planners and calendars and your email inbox is a recipe for time management trouble. Hours are wasted transferring information, second guessing what to do next and worrying about what might be forgotten.”
That's one of the reasons why having a firm, accurate, and organized to-do list is crucial for keeping your business on track and on target to meet your daily, weekly, monthly and/or annual goals. You won’t forget tasks, you’ll have everything you need to do in one place, and you can go about your day more assured of yourself in what you’re doing.
When implemented correctly, in addition to basic organization and improved productivity, a to-do list provides a sense of reward that boosts your confidence with a sense of accomplishment and improves your mood by releasing a bit of endorphins whenever you cross a task off of your list. Also, to-do lists can be a motivator if they effectively break up large tasks into smaller, doable tasks which allow you to get closer and closer to a bigger goal ahead.
However, if done the wrong way, a business to-do list can go awry and might make things even more complicated. Making and keeping a successful to-do list day in and day out is something of an art form, but these tips make it possible to manage an effective to-do list that moves your business forward.
Find Your Best To-Do List-Making Method
The first step in the art of managing a to-do list is, obviously, to create the list itself. This, of course, is one of the most important steps, because if you don’t create the list correctly, all of the other steps in trying to manage it could be for nothing.
First, decide which way is best for you to keep track of tasks. This could be a document you save on your computer or on a cloud program, like Google Drive or Dropbox. Or this could be a CRM tool, task management app or even simply pen and paper. Whichever system works best for you, this is the one you should go with every time you make your list.
Besides how to create a list, another important tip for choosing when to begin writing your to-do list is to write it out the night before. Having to remember everything the next day may mean you are more likely to forget something you wanted to do at the end of the previous day. Plus, having to write your to-do list first thing means that you don’t get to immediately start your day off being productive, and it takes away from your time, making you less efficient for the day.
Create Your To-Do List — And Write It Down
Once you’ve chosen your list-taking system, sit down in a place and at a time where you won’t have any distractions—these could lead you to forget something. Go through any planners, calendars, post-it’s, notebooks, emails and anything else where you might find tasks you need to get done. Be as thorough as possible because you’re even more likely to forget something when you’re not in the list-making zone.
While you’re creating this to-do list for your business, it is absolutely necessary that you write everything down as you go along. Regardless of the system you choose, writing down your to-do list is one of the most important parts of managing this list. If you force yourself to remember everything yourself without writing it down, it is much easier for you to forget something. Besides being an external memory tool, a to-do list can also reinforce what you have to do in your short-term memory every time you look at it.
Using whatever system works best for you, track all of these tasks and their due dates, when applicable, in that system. This could be everyday tasks like responding to customer emails or checking website stats, or it could be a one-off task like a big project you have coming up.
In addition to the task itself, include, if you can, about how long you think each task might take. That could be as specific as 15 minutes or an hour or as general as “Quick,” “Medium” and “Long.” Having the estimated time it might take to complete a task makes it easier to skim over what can be done in the allotted time that you have and helps you plan out your day more efficiently time-wise.
It may be smart to overestimate how long a task might take you, as running out of time to complete a task is usually more inconvenient than having extra time if you finish up more quickly. Plus, you never know what types of distractions can come along to take you away from that task, however briefly, so you’ll want to factor in a little time for that as well.
Along with your actual to-do list, you should keep a distraction list nearby, which lists everything you think of that you’d like to do while you’re working on something else. This list gets those tasks out of your head and into a place where you can look at it later and decide whether or not it’s something you need to take care of and when to take care of it. Resist stopping what you’re in the middle of doing to do anything on your distraction list until your current task is completed.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Having a to-do list that is too long can be overwhelming, so you may want to make separate to-do lists for your day, week, month, etc., and break down larger tasks and goals into smaller ones you can handle each day. Another way to further organize your to-do list is to prioritize all tasks.
You can prioritize by importance, date, both or any other way that you deem essential to actually finishing the tasks you set for yourself. If you have a big project coming up in the next few days, you probably shouldn’t spend half of your day doing menial daily tasks. These menial tasks could include checking email multiple times a day, which doesn’t usually have to be done at that particular moment or can be batched into one task to be done later in the day.
The point of this exercise is to figure out which are the most important tasks that need to be handled first before you get swallowed up in the typical day-to-day. Having these more important tasks atop your to-do list mentally prepares you for the day and for what you need to do to be most efficient and productive.
Don’t Leave Tasks Incomplete – Finish What You Start
Now that you have your to-do list made, it’s time to begin ticking those tasks off your list one by one. If you’ve included the time it takes to complete each task and have evaluated the time you have at that given moment, start the first or next task on your list only if you have enough time to complete it.
If you don’t have enough time to finish the task in one sitting—don’t start it! Complete tasks 100 percent, not 80. Take care of a task all at once, and stay focused on that one task before moving onto another – don’t break the momentum.
Leave a task incomplete, and it could “haunt” you—in other words, it will nag you while you try to do other things until it is finished. If your mind is nagging you about another project instead of the one you’re currently working on, you won’t be as focused or as efficient, and you’ll end up wasting time and energy, particularly if you have to go back and rework that task as a result of the distraction.
Make sure you leave yourself enough time to complete all components of a task. Don’t start a huge project when you only have 10 or 15 minutes or are surrounded by distractions. Wait until you have the time to dedicate to all of the project at once.
Keep Your List Fresh
If possible, particularly if you accomplish many things in a day and will have many more added the next day, you should refresh your list every day (preferably every evening before closing shop). It may feel good to see several things crossed off your list every day, but it’s much better to start the next day with a fresh, clean list that is as complete and thorough as it can be.
Keeping your list fresh rather than simply using the one from the day or week before is also helpful because it could be easier to forget something you thought about doing earlier in the day (hopefully on your distraction list so you can remember).
Remember To Reward Yourself
Finally, throughout all of this work, work, work, you must find time to reward yourself or risk burning out completely. This reward could be a 20-minute walk outside, a 10-minute social media session or making yourself something to eat.
If you reward yourself, it actually makes working on that particular task even easier, as you will be working harder and faster to get to that reward as soon as possible. Just don’t let this reward distract you or rush you too much, which could hinder your ability to focus on your project.
Creating a to-do list for your business is a more organized approach to facing your day’s activities and responsibilities. Having tasks on your to-do list (so you don’t have to remember) and prioritized (so you don’t have to think about what to do next) will make your business more productive and efficient, and you will likely see results sooner than you think. Give the to-do list a try and see how much it can have a positive impact on your own business—or life in general.