The Most Underrated Trick to Make Your Day Productive

Have you ever been inundated with a series of tasks and action items that you almost felt clueless about where to begin? Do you feel disoriented about keeping track of what you need to do and when you need to do it? After an exhausting day, do you still feel that you never got around doing the things you initially intended to do? Well, don’t worry, you are not alone.

Almost every day, most of us are flooded with tasks that we need to follow upon. But due to the lack of an organized system, we end up finishing up the fringes and miss out on the important stuff. This is causing ineptitude among you and your employees. The simple truth is that you have allowed yourself get caught up in the whirlwind of daily events, which is making you question the very purpose of your job and your organization. But fret not; there is a trick to overcome this everyday mundane routine.

How did I discover the Trick?

In 2007, when I started my professional career, I was passionate about my work and full of idealism. I even wanted to change the world! Unfortunately I was not able to get anything done as I simply didn’t know how to go about doing stuff. I was given too many responsibilities too soon and did not know how to organize myself. My inefficiency and unorganized nature frustrated me.

However, all that changed when I learnt the simple trick of making a to-do list from my former boss. This simple trick proved to be the most efficient tool throughout my professional life span.

I observed that my boss had this interesting habit of jotting down a list of things that needed to be done first thing in the morning. He used a simple ruled notebook to record his task lists. Hence, I bought a notebook for myself and started listing the things that needed to be done and thus got myself organized. Through this simple list I was able to stop making excuses and begin accomplishing the responsibilities handed down to me.

Making a daily to-do list could be the most powerful way of improving your productivity. I learnt that almost all successful leaders make a list of things that they want to accomplish for the day. You too can follow this simple trick to get your work done in time.

Success is often a result of committing to the fundamentals over and over again.

– James Clear

To be able to make a concise list, follow the given instructions:

  1. Collect: 

Take stock of things that need to be done. Your mind will highlight the most urgent and short-term important tasks for the day. Note these down in your notebook and make a list. You will now have a clear idea of what you are required to complete during the day.In order to capture the more important long-term tasks,  I  continue my note taking to determine what I want to accomplish maybe today, tomorrow or a in a week.For the sake of clarity, let us call this the Master List. David Allen, author of the famous ‘Getting Things Donecalls this process ‘Capture’.

I begin my day with a collection of items that need completion and I try to capture the other items as they pop up in my mind.

2. Organize:

Once you have this Master List, you will realize immediately that you will not be able to do complete everything with your present flow of work as some tasks may require someone or something to be completed. Some tasks may also involve a particular location or context. There are several ways of categorizing and organizing your task list:

  • Dr.Stephen Covey suggests prioritizing the to-do lists based on his Urgency-Importance matrix. He advises us to pay attention to the ‘Not Urgent-Important (Quadrant II)’. Dr.Covey calls this segmentation ‘Big rocks’.
  • Michael Linenberger has a completely opposite view in his ‘One Minute To-do list (1MTD)’ concept. He suggests prioritizing one’s talk based on urgency rather than importance. His take is that a to-do list is urgent for a reason and we should respect that urgency.
  • Zen Habit’s famous Leo Baubata talks about identifying the Most Important Task(s) for the day. He suggests that we do not have more than three items on the list and advises us to ruthlessly delete the others.
  • David Allen suggests sorting our lists by contexts such as shop, home, office, online, calls, date; to organize our to-do list.
  • The 18-minutes fame business consultant, Peter Bregman suggests that we classify work lists into six different boxes based on the area/ department of work (For example, sales, training and so on and leave the last box for fringe tasks).

How do I organize my list?

I use a combination of the above techniques.

  • Firstly, I organize my to-do lists based on work areas. For example, sales, training, blogging and so on. This gives me clarity on the progress of each of the tasks. More importantly I make sure I do not miss any of the areas.

  • Secondly, I contextualize wherever necessary by batching my work. For example, I batch my phone calls and check and respond to emails during particularly allotted time slots.

  • Finally, when I get things done, I cross/ tick them off. Honestly, nothing beats the pleasure of knocking down a task on a list. That gives you the momentum to take on your next task.

    3. Leverage Technology

If you are tech savvy, you can also use a variety of web and mobile apps that can help you collect and organize your to-do list. If this doesn’t work, you know a pen and a paper are your best tools.

I have started using Evernote to capture my task lists and my notes. At the same time, I also prefer having my daily to-do list in a notebook for easy access and clarity.

4. Schedule

Once our lists have been organized, we need to schedule the tasks on to a calendar. I use both Outlook Calendar (for my professional work) and Google Calendar (for both personal and professional needs). Google Calendar also gives you the flexibility to add an event to any particular time slot of the day. Cal Newport extends this idea of event time boxing our day and calls it ‘fixed-schedule productivity’.

5. Track and Review

It is as important to track and review your progress on a given task as it is to collect, organize and create your to-do list.

  • You can use simple ways of tracking your daily routine activities through Ben Franklin’s Virtues tracker and web apps such as Joe’s goals.
  • The much talked about Seinfeld’s productivity secret – ‘Don’t break the chain’ is another interesting way to track and hold yourself responsible for the consistency of a routine task over time. (For example: maximum number of cold calls, or save X amount of money every day).
  • The book, 4 Disciplines of Execution names this process as its 3rd Discipline. The idea is to create a scoreboard for tracking progress. A simple google spreadsheet can help you accomplish this goal.

Call for Action

My suggestion is that you start making a to-do list from today onwards. You don’t have to get all the 5 systems in place immediately but you can begin by jotting down a list of things that you need to do during the day. You can organize your to-do list in a method that is convenient to you.

Now that you are armed with an organized list of things to do, you are pretty much set to make this day one of the most productive ever.

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5 thoughts on “The Most Underrated Trick to Make Your Day Productive

  1. Sathya, Very practical and useful tips. thanks. Even though we know these tricks / methods, it is intuitive. But it gets reinforcement when you organize the thought and share it with your life experience. Great. Please add more life experience in coming posts. People get inspiration from stories than concepts and abstract ideas.

    1. Hi Janaki sir,
      Thank you for your appreciation sir. Sure I will try to include personal stories and anecdotes in the coming posts – it seems to be a good idea. Do watch out for it soon. Thanks again 🙂

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