The List Tricks of Effortlessly Efficient People

filofaxSome people seem to be effortlessly efficient and get things done without having to think about it.

Well it may seem that way, but behind all super-efficient people there is some sort of list making and prioritization going on.

These people are just better at covering up the process they use to prioritize their tasks.

Some may be able to keep their tasks in their heads, though I would speculate that not many busy people are able to do this. Others may use a simple diary or notebook. Those at top levels in corporations may have a secretary or PA to look after these details for them.

But the similarity will be that they have all got a method of bringing the priorities to the front of the mind without cluttering their thoughts with all the other day to day minutiae.

In this post I’m going to discuss the types of tasks you may need to keep track of, (whether in your personal or work life) and suggest ways you may be able to become a little bit more “effortlessly efficient”.

What to remember and what to assign to a list

As anyone who has to keep track of a range of projects, tasks, actions and deadlines will know, it is imperative to know what has to be done and when.

That’s the essence of list making isn’t it? To make sure you know your deadlines and know what you must get done today, tomorrow, this week….

But possibly at least as important is the ability to ignore the other tasks on the list.

Ignore them?  It sounds counter-intuitive, but in fact only by ignoring the non-critical items can you fully concentrate on the critical items.

You might have 1001 things on your lists.  You might need to remember to pick up some milk on the way home, to put the bin out, to take the kids to swimming, to complete the report for the boss by Thursday, to write and submit an article by noon, etc., etc.

But unless you can concentrate on the important things your mind will be a whirl with the unimportant things.

And that’s really the major bonus of using list making software to manage your tasks.  You can add everything to your software, be sure that you aren’t going to forget it, be happy that you will be sent an email reminder if necessary, and then…

…forget about it.

Only by forgetting the small stuff can you concentrate on the big stuff.

Types of tasks

There are a range of different types of tasks that may be filling your mental task list at any time, but I you can generally break them down into:

Events, meetings etc.

These are essentially calendar events.  They may happen regularly like birthdays, or be one off events like meetings, appointments, reminders to tax your car, or renew your SSL certificate.

Single tasks

Often to do with individual projects, these are tasks that you need to do once.  Really these are tasks for your traditional to do list.

Repeat tasks

Depending on the nature of your work you may have to do a lot of the same things each day, each week each month.  These are not things that you want to assign to a calendar, as they mostly don’t fit into a specific hour of the day or “all day”.  But they must be remembered.

Things to Remember

Thoughts and pieces of inspiration, clippings from websites, blog posts to read, lists of article ideas.  All of these things can be tough to remember unless you go about it in a structured way.

The Tricks to Make you Effortlessly Efficient

I am not naturally “effortlessly efficient.  I don’t even claim to have successfully made myself that way.  But using these tricks definitely help me and push me in the right direction. Many of these ideas come from Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity [affiliate link].

Check your emails less

If you check your emails every 10 minutes, you’re bound to get distracted.  We don’t get more efficient by reading emails more often. We just get distracted. Why not set your email program to only check for new emails (or notify you of new emails) once every hour. That way you won’t be continually distracted by the “bing” of new emails arriving.

Discipline yourself in this and you will find you waste less time checking emails and spend more time completing tasks.

If you can do it in less than a minute, do it straight away

This is great advice from “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.  When you check your emails, or otherwise get a new task thrown at you, if you can do it immediately, just do it.  It would take longer to add it to your list and do it later than to just do it now, so just do it.

Have a “Task Inbox”

If you can’t do it immediately, add it to your Task Inbox. Whatever method you choose to keep a record of tasks, just add it to your Inbox to be sorted and set a priority and deadline at a later time.  That way you can just forget about it now and come back to it when you need to.

Add everything to a list

Set specific times in the day to convert your “Task Inbox” into structured tasks.  First thing in the morning or last thing at night are good times.

If someone calls you up with something to do, assign it to a list.  Don’t let them decide whether it’s top of your list, you decide but making it a task and assigning it a priority.

Set reminders

Lots of software and calendars allow you to set reminders so that you won’t forget your tasks.  Use these.  Be confident in them. They allow you to forget about these tasks until you need to remember.

Prioritize

Use a method that displays your tasks in a prioritized way.  If you use pen and paper this could simply mean keeping separate lists, one for today’s tasks and one for everything else.

Certain software allows you to do this in a structured and intuitive way and I will detail this in a follow up post.

Break down large tasks into a series of smaller tasks

I used to write things on my lists like “Write content for www.website.com”.  Is it any wonder that the task always seemed too daunting and didn’t get done?

Now (and in large part thanks to finding www.workflowy.com) my task list for this project would look more like:

  • Write content for www.website.com
    • Write Home page content
    • Write about us content
    • set up contact page
    • Write article on subject 1
    • Write article on subject 2
    • Write article on subject 3

By doing it this way I can:

  • complete smaller tasks in a sensible timescale
  • watch my progress
  • get a sense of satisfaction by completing something

Once items are on your list forget about them

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the key to being efficient.  Once items are on your list,  you can be confident they are safely there, they won’t be forgotten and you will get to them when you need to.

Once you’ve done this you can forget them and concentrate on the important things.

Summary

To me making lists helps you follow the advice of Richard Carlson [affiliate link]:

Don’t sweat the small stuff….. it’s all small stuff.

If you get overwhelmed with the enormity of what you have to do, by breaking it down into bite-size chunks and then concentrating on the ones you need to concentrate on you go a long way to making sure it is all small stuff.

In my next post I detail the four main programs I use to track my tasks and events.

The 4 Best Programs for Effortless Efficiency

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