Friday, September 6, 2013

Smart To-Do Lists Get Things Done

To-do lists are great if they work. But just making a to-do list isn’t enough. You eventually have to act on it. Usually, these lists become a black hole into which everything you need to get done for your business, home, and life disappears. The result is that you end up doing nothing. But you do have that list. Isn’t that enough?

Creating a big long list starts to feel productive. It’s almost as if you’re actually getting started on a few of these items simply by acknowledging your need to do them. And finally, the act of writing a list can be so satisfying you don’t feel an immediate need to get started on the first item.

You’ve got a smart phone and a smart computer. Now it’s time to create a smart to-do list.

Keep it short. Can you accomplish two important tasks each day? A long to-do list of more than two pages can be intimidating. It’s actually better to have make several shorter lists. At first, you may think that all the items on your list have equal value, but that’s usually not the case. Limit your list to 10 items each week.

Prioritize the things you have to do. Put the important ones on your main list and the others on a secondary list. Often the items on this second list have no immediate deadline, so you can check them off as you have time to do them. If one or more of them becomes important, you can always add it to your main list.

Focus on what’s important first. Differentiate between productive tasks and satisfying time wasters.

When creating your list, use action words. Also, create a short command sentence for each item, not just a word or a phrase. For instance, “Research and write my writing blog for this week.”

Just as in your writing, you need to be as specific as possible when creating your to-do list. The more specific you can be, the better. Instead of “marketing,” write: “Identify five new markets for my articles and send queries to their editors.” The more specific you are, the more actionable your list will become. Once you know what you want to accomplish, it’s easy to make a to-do list of steps to get it done.

Use technology to create your list. You may prefer writing your list on a piece of paper. But with all the devices and special software programs at your disposal, you may want to consider trying something different. Take Evernote, for example. This neat application allows you to create notes, and, yes, a to-do list on any of several devices—desktop computer, laptop computer, cell phone, tablet—and then access them on all of the devices at any time.

Another great feature of Evernote is Evernote Web Clipper. With this application, you can save articles, links, and even full Web pages to read later. It’s better than a bookmark because you can only bookmark sites in a particular browser on an individual device. But with Evernote, your bookmarks or articles travel with you so that you can access them at any time.

The same applies to your to-do list. If you write your list on a piece of paper, you have to go into your office to read it and act on what’s listed. But with your list traveling with you, you can access it at any time and complete tasks using different devices, thus increasing productivity.

Of course, you can do much of what Evernote does on Google Calendar or on Yahoo. But saving notes, to-do lists, photos, Web pages, music, and more allows you to become more productive by making the best use of the time you have.

As you head into a freelance career, remember a large part of your success will depend on your ability to work through an ever-growing list of things to do. Creating a smart to-do list will help you prioritize what you have to do, so you get things done.

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