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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Secret to Doing Everything

I'll admit it, I'm addicted to to-do lists. But I like to think that it’s a healthy addiction. I feel on top of things, people consider me reliable, and things get done.

While being a chronic to-do lister may not work for everyone, let me share a few tips I’ve learned over the years that are sure to be useful for even the most disorganized of young professionals.

1. Make a list

If you're like me, your list will have symbols (which only you can understand) and color-coding. If you're not, it will be a simple list of things to do. Both are equally helpful! The important thing is getting those action items on paper and out of your head, so you can free up your mind to focus on other things. It'll also ensure that smaller tasks don't fall through the cracks—which can help you really shine in front of a boss or be a reliable friend.

2. Step by step

This one is key for me. "Clean apartment" and "Clear inbox" are tasks that feel overwhelming, and I always end up pushing them to the next day. And soon enough, a month has gone by. I need bite sized to-dos!

If I see something on the list that's easy to cross off, I am way more likely to do it. "Clean apartment" becomes a series of tasks (do dishes, wipe down counters, take out recycling). "Clear inbox" gets done little by little, be it specific tasks (answer Kathryn's email) or just steps that will make a dent (answer 2 emails). Sure, my to-do list may end up with more tasks this way. But I make more progress and feel like I’ve accomplished a lot each day, instead of feeling terrible for having failed to clean my apartment—again.

3. Vary your tasks

It may be that I'm Gen Y, it may be that I'm borderline ADD. Either way, I get bored easily. When I make a to-do list, I like to mix easy and tough tasks as well as vary between business and pleasure. My Sunday afternoon list would probably look something like this:

  • Answer colleague's email
  • Water plants
  • Write Daily Muse article
  • Call Alison
  • Fold laundry
  • Send pictures to grandmother
  • Pay August bills
  • Honestly, it goes quicker than you'd think!

    4. Take breaks and reward yourself

    Productivity is good, but feeling sane and human is even better. Take a walk, watch your favorite show, indulge in a tasty snack. Some people like to schedule that: "At 4 PM, I'll take a 45 min break." And maybe that works for you. But for me, it’s just an excuse to drag my feet until 4. I like to say "I'll watch last night's episode of The Voice on Hulu once I've emailed Melissa and updated the sales analysis." With an incentive, my productivity and speed skyrocket!

    Also, every once in a while, give yourself a full evening or weekend off. Not worrying about anything—because you know you'll get it all done later when you set your mind to it—is one of the best feelings.

    Have any tricks that work for you? Leave a comment and share with us!

    Photo courtesy of Amplified2010.