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March 6, 2017 By Raph DaCosta

The Ultimate To-Do List Structure to Get Things Done, Even on Sleepy Winter Days

March 6, 2017

By Raph DaCosta

Read More from Raph DaCosta

March 6, 2017

The Ultimate To-Do List Structure to Get Things Done, Even on Sleepy Winter Days

By Raph DaCosta
Social Media Specialist

There may only be a few weeks left of winter, but the cold weather and short days make Spring seem very far away. Just like many of our mammal counterparts during the gray, cold, blustery days of winter, we humans get the urge to curl up under the blankets and hibernate.

In fact, 83 percent of all mammal species go into some form of hibernation in winter, so the fact that we don’t hibernate puts us at odds with the vast majority of our class. Denmark crafted an entire culture around this desire to be cozy in winter: hygge (pronounced hue-guh for those unfamiliar with this coziness craze).

So, it’s no surprise that our productivity wanes in winter. A productivity study by Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University found that when temperatures were low (68 degrees in the study), employees’ errors rose by 44 percent. And when temperatures were raised to a balmy 77 degrees, productivity jumped 150 percent.

The traditional remedy for those of us who’ve fallen off the productivity track is to draft a to-do list and conquer one item at a time. But the standard to-do list is no match for our hibernating brains.

There is, however, a to-do list structure that will help you get things done, even when the sun barely seems to rise and every fiber of your being is pulling you back to bed.

Creating the Ultimate Do-Do List in 4 Steps

Step 1: Understand the point of your to-do list.

David Allen, productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, is the inspiration behind this to-do list method. The main goal of a good to-do list is to get things out of your head and into a manageable, external system.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them,” wrote Allen.

If you keep too many tasks in your brain, they’re going to bounce off each other and crowd your attention. Instead, the point of this to-do list is to get them out of your mind and onto paper.

Step 2: Choose your desired to-do list location.

The most important aspect of your to-do list is that it be accessible when you need it. Whether it’s a simple Google Doc, a spreadsheet, or a well-designed task organizing program like Trello, consider putting your to-do list in the cloud instead of on paper. This way you can access it whether you are in the office, at home, or even on the go.

Step 3: Dump your brain.

As David Allen recommends, do a “brain dump.” This is one long list of all the things you have to do: every unfinished project, every minute daily task, every big idea. Don’t worry about organizing these things yet–just get them out of your head.

If you’re having a hard time actually remembering the gazillion things that could be added to your to-do list, Allen has a downloadable PDF called an Incompletion Trigger List. It’s designed you truly get everything out of your brain and onto your list by triggering your memory to recall everything bumping around in there.

Step 4: Start organizing your tasks.

Your ultimate to-do-list to get things done should include four separate lists:

  1. One long lists of all the things you need to do (the brain dump)
  2. One list that orders tasks by deadline dates (either self-imposed or set by someone else)
  3. One list for the tasks you will focus on today (based on those deadline dates).
  4. One final list for vague ideas and tasks with no deadlines (things you just need to remember to think about, but don’t want to keep in your brain).

Key Points for Organizing Your Ultimate To-Do List

As you do this, make sure you’re writing everything as an actual task–something that can be done, rather than just an idea.

  • For example, instead of writing “meet with coworkers about Project X,” which is vague and unaccomplishable, your task should read, “schedule a join.me call with Joe, Sam, and Mary to discuss Project X.” Now you know exactly what your next step is–to schedule that join.me.

It’s important to assign deadlines and due dates for every task if at all possible.

  • For ideas and tasks that really have no definable deadline, put those on your fourth list for vague ideas to think about later. Schedule a task on a regular basis that reminds you to review these no-deadline tasks, and moves them into the mix by better defining the actions you need to take, and assigning deadlines to each.

Every day that you stick with this to-do list method, you’ll find yourself coming out of hibernation faster, focusing easily on what you need to accomplish that day, and fighting through significantly less brain clutter and fog.

The structure off this list–adding tasks as they arise, assigning deadlines to each task, doing regular brain dumps, and completing today’s tasks TODAY–can re-establish your brain’s feeling of flow, especially during these gray, sleepy winter months.

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