The sight of a long to-list can be overwhelming — even paralyzing. Unfinished tasks make us conscious of just how much we still have to do. An effective solution is to maintain different task lists, based on the place you are at.
There’s a popular meme that amusingly sums up the effect of looking at several tasks on your plate:
Being in different situations triggers our brain to think differently. For example, the act of sitting at your work desk puts you in “work mode”, or wearing your track-pants and headphones sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to start exercising.
In my experience, once you start segregating your lists by place, you slowly condition yourself to tackle certain tasks based on your environment. If taking a coffee break and getting out of your chair is associated with returning a phone call, you will eventually develop a habit of doing that; and just like that, one item on your to-do list is scratched off.
The other upside, as mentioned above, is that your to-do list appears much smaller and manageable. You know that when you are at your work desk, you don’t have to return calls; it’s not a task you have to even spend any mindspace on, it’s meant for later.
Finally, the more you categorize your to-do list by environments, the more you discover pockets of time in your day to accomplish simple tasks. For example, Lifehacker’s shower review system shows how you can take stock of your life and make improvements while utilising previously unproductive shower time.
How To Categorize Tasks By Place
In a typical day in your life, identify at least four activities that repeat. Also, identify the devices you have access to at this time. To draw an example from my system, these four places are:
Morning -> Gym -> Phone
Afternoon -> Work Desk -> PC, Phone, Tablet
Early Evening -> Coffee Shop -> Phone
Post-Dinner -> Bedroom -> Phone, Tablet, TV
At the start of each of these routines, I take time out to determine which tasks need to be done and can be done while I’m carrying out my routine. For example, my coffee shop time is linked to two tasks: returning phone calls I’ve received during work hours, and playing Chess. My work desk is linked to writing and editing. Gym time is catching up with different news feeds.
There are plenty of great apps for managing to-do lists on Android, iOS, Web and other platforms, but when you put all your lists into one app, you end up with that huge list of unfinished tasks. Most apps have a big read number notifying you about the number of pending actions, which misses the point of making our list seem more doable.
Instead, create a new to-do list for each place, starting with a blank slate every day. For example, for my work desk to-do list, I like to use Google Chrome’s Momentum, a super-useful and beautiful start screen extension that is a simple list of the things I have to do while at my work desk. I write them out, and at the end of the day, I delete them all, irrespective of whether I’ve finished them or not.
Similarly, Truedialer (read our review) has become my go-to app to see the calls I need to return — especially since it lists people whose number I don’t have in my address book, saving me the trouble of not returning unimportant calls.
If you want to ensure that you don’t miss anything important, maintain an overall to-do list to add stuff for the future as it comes up. However, you will only review this list once in a day (ideally just before you sleep), because the number of items on it will quickly grow and be intimidating. It’s probably best to use a cross-platform app like the aforementioned Any.Do here so that adding items is easy.
What’s Your Productivity Method?
Productivity is subjective. Everyone has their own system to tackle the things they have to do. Some might prefer to sort their tasks by emotion, others by the amount of time available, and then there’s the aforementioned method of categorizing by place and environment. So tell us, what’s your productivity secret?