5 rules for your to-do list to increase productivity

Being more productive is a question I get a lot in my client sessions. Emails and to-do lists that spiral out of control, which leads to stress, and feelings of overwhelm, so you’re not as productive and the works starts piling up again. Sound familiar?

While different methods suit different people, these five to-do list rules are productivity techniques which work for me: 

The 5-minute to-do list rule

Anything which you aren’t going to do in the next five minutes needs to go on the to-do list, even if it’s making a quick phone call. Otherwise, it will be lost forever.

The defined list rule

Make sure your to-do list is precise and defined. For example, “online marketing” is so vague that you’re never going to get around to doing anything. Whereas: “spend 45 minutes reading the e-consultancy report on SEO” is a clear instruction to do a very specific thing. That one is on my list for this week.

The ‘prioritise well’ rule

Putting everything on your to-do list will make it enormous. This can make you feel dispirited and like you’ll never achieve anything. So you need to prioritise.

I use Stephen Covey’s matrix to choose the things on my list. Covey’s matrix looks a bit like this: 

covey's matrix

Decide where your tasks fit into each quadrant. For example, urgent things like calling a client back and getting that presentation ready for your afternoon’s meeting are also important things to do. 

Whereas shopping around for a new pair of shoes may be urgent as you have an event next week, but it is unlikely to be important.

For me, important things are what will make me and my clients money now or in the long run.

The aim is to get the urgent and important tasks done first and then concentrate on the non-urgent but essential things. If something is not critical, and it’s not important, I take it off the list and don’t do it. That probably chops out about a third of the list straight away – just don’t do these things.

The ‘plan ahead’ rule

Each morning, before you do anything else (including delving into your email) choose which things you’re going to do that day and put them on your to-do list. This way you don’t spend time getting distracted between tasks and finding yourself wasting time on social media. 

The flexibility rule

Allow yourself time for people phoning you, getting distracted, eating lunch etc. Rather than filling your day to the full. Only put on your to-do list the things you can reasonably do. You can always finish that day’s agenda, smile, and then get ahead with tomorrow’s stuff.

There are lots of resources to help you with your time management, and we can all do with getting more out of our day.

In particular, I recommend a  book by Graham Allcott at Think Productive called How to be a Productivity Ninja.

And of course, once you’ve done that you’ll be so productive that your business will be ready for the next stage, which is when you’ll want to chat to me about your strategy to develop and grow.

Other posts about productivity that you might find useful: 

Habits of successful business owners

How to get an extra 10 hours per week

Doing a Pomodoro – time management using an Italian tomato-shaped egg timer