A 5 Star To Do List

by Niamh Brady, Productivity Coach

We all know the benefits of a To Do List, but what happens when the list goes from being a productive friend to a mental stamina draining foe? The problem is your To Do List seems never-ending and each time you finish your day, you’ve nothing but work on your mind.

Leaving aside the fact that a To Do List like this makes it very difficult to focus on the key items to be completed, this can also have an impact on your health. Studies like this one have found that being a workaholic has real impacts on a person health, even more so than if someone is simply working longer hours. So how can you make the To Do List work for you, rather than against you?

  • Make a List: Towards the end of your working day, set aside whatever list you are currently trying to manage and start with a blank page. Write down everything that needs to be worked on in the next 3 days, both big and small. This brain dump allows you to get the list out of your head, freeing your mental capacity up to actually do the work rather than think about it.

  • Pick 5 Stars: Some recommend that the next step is to shorten this list to 1 – 3 items to do the next day. That may work, but I know in my job it’s just not realistic. Instead, you can identify up to 5 items that need to be started, progressed or completed the next day and place a star next to them. These would typically be a mix of small items, which are time sensitive, and larger items which directly contribute to a key project, strategic goal etc. This is your shortlist for the next day.

  • Scan for a Quick Win: Now I’m going to break another “rule” of managing the To Do List by suggesting you go back to the long list and find just one item, big or small, that you can act before you finish work that day. Knowing that not only have you got a plan for the next couple of days, but that it’s already in motion, will go a long way to allowing your brain to switch off and rest when you leave your desk.

  • Go home: You can’t work 24 / 7 so agree a time with yourself to finish work and stick to it.

  • Act rather than React: The next day, try to resist opening your email for the first 45 minutes to an hour. Use that time to take action against one of your stars before the demands of your inbox unfold before you and bring you in another direction.

Remember your To Do List is simply a list. Its purpose is to aid you by clearing your mind and being a point of reference for the items which you are aiming to get completed. Knowing this, your To Do List will most likely change at the end of every working day as you reflect on what you got completed, and what new items have come across your desk.

So what are you waiting for? Make a list, mark your stars, find a quick win and then turn off the laptop for some well-earned rest!