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10 simple ways to master that monstrous to-do list

Having issues with productivity lately?

Me too. Even though I love my job, I feel like when things get too busy, my productivity levels sometimes take a nosedive. I was inspired to write this after a few overwhelming days at work last week. Being the first full workweek after the holiday break, I think we all experienced the “everything you put off at the end of 2013 came back to bite you in the ass” situation. It doesn’t have to be that way! Here are a few proven productivity pointers that will help you keep your head on straight. 

1. Write Everything Down 

This sounds silly, but it is has a zero percent failure rate. It doesn’t matter if it’s the tiniest task in the world. Chances are, you’ll get sidetracked and forget about it. Not only will the act of physically writing it down help you remember, but it’s tricky to forget something that is staring you in the face. Secondly, if you’re feeling really overwhelmed, again, write out your to-do list. Once you see how many things you have on paper, you’ll feel much better once you have an official action plan to get it all done. Not to mention, it probably doesn’t look as bad on paper as it did in your head. 

2. Bucket your To-Do List 

This brings me into my second point, bucket your to-do list. Whether it’s by task type, category, or even if you can rank your tasks “Low-Medium-High”. This will help you prioritize and focus only on the big things. 

3. Change up your scenery 

When I’m having concentration issues, it always helps for me to change my scenery. Book a conference room, work from Starbucks for a couple hours. Even take a 15 minute walk around the block. If your days are meeting heavy, see if you can schedule a coffee meeting instead of a meeting in the office. Your day will be much more productive if it’s less monotonous. 

4. Pick up the phone 

I really struggle with this one because I’m the kind of person that likes to have everything in writing (you know, “I have in this email right here that you agreed to this deadline” kind of thing). Contrary to that though, we accomplish so much more when we can engage in conversation. Instead of sending 10 one-off emails, call someone and discuss it with them live. Better yet, stop by their desk and talk it through. Congratulations, you just saved yourself from what would have been about 2 hours worth of emails! 

5. Create an email system

I once had someone tell me this was the most useful tip I had ever given them. Create a system for your emails. For example, I will read every email that comes through, but I won’t mark it “unread” until I’ve finished the task. Some people do this, but they won’t “file” away their emails until the task is completed. Whatever works for you- create a system and stick to it. You will never forget to respond to an email if you don’t “uncheck it” until after you’re done! 

6. Use googledocs to take all your notes

This is probably the most useful for me. I have a running google doc with notes from every conference call, every meeting, presentation, discussion, etc. That way, there’s no rummaging around my desk trying to find my notes. No worry in throwing away the sticky note with the client feedback I just received. I’m able to access it wherever I am, anytime, any place. This is extremely helpful even if you don’t have a full time job. Maybe you’re a student- create a separate googledoc for every class and keep all of your notes in the same place. 

7. Use your calendar 

No brainer. Have recurring tasks? Put reminders in your calendar when you have big deadlines. Even if you forget, your calendar will remember for you! 

8. Stop scheduling so many meetings 

When I first read this article in Psychology Today I was floored. A recent study found that 30% of our time spent in meetings is wasted. Stop scheduling so many damn meetings! If you need to ask someone a few questions, refer to point #4. You don’t need to “schedule a meeting” for that purpose. Use them sparingly! 

9. Pick 3-5 big things. Focus on those first. 

When work gets overwhelming, sit down and re-evaluate what is actually on fire. Pick a handful of things that need to be done that day. It makes things much easier to tackle. 

10. Stop freaking out. Nobody is going to die. 

Thus far in my advertising career, one of the best accounts I’ve ever worked on was an Ice Cream brand. I remember being extremely stressed out at the office one summer day (you know, peak ice cream season) and my boss said, “Jess. We’re selling ice cream. Nobody is going to die.” It was a total eureka moment, and that attitude has stuck with me ever since. Stop freaking out about things that don’t matter! When something goes wrong, take a deep breath. Think about how it factors into the big picture. Chances are, it probably doesn’t. 

What helps you keep your ducks in a row? By all means, spill your tips!