Updated: Dec 3, 2020

"If it isn't scheduled it isn't real". Tim Ferris.

Here is something really simple, really obvious; and yet something most people miss and that will have a big big impact on your productivity.

First, two concepts:

  1. Schedule stuff. Basically, the idea is that it's all very well to say "we should hang out more". But if you don't set a time and date, you won't. Or "I should start a blog". If you don't say when you're starting it, and how, you won't. UNTIL YOU'VE SCHEDULED IT IT WON'T HAPPEN.

  2. Conceive-Plan-Do. Whatever it is you're doing, it is far more effective to make a plan, then execute it. Ie, in the blog example above, the plan might be: decide on topic; decide logistics (frequency, length); find medium (eg WIX.COM); decide on marketing strategy; start writing. Obviously here, step one would be to actually craft the plan. But then, you have a roadmap. Then, each day, you know what the task is to be achieved. You're not sat there wondering "how do I progress my blog today". It takes the procrastination out of it. Conceive-Plan-Execute.

To then be far more productive, it is helpful to use a to-do list. That may be obvious, it may not. But having a list to follow captures an element of point #2 above.

HOWEVER - to-do lists can be as much a hindrance as a help. Execution is everything. Here are some thoughts:

First, how not to do it. A bad list will have lots and lots of things on it. You just keep adding things that pop into your head, to the bottom of the list. Before you know it, you have a list with 100 items, some of which you try to get through each day. More than likely, half the day is consumed going through the list. This is a bad, unhelpful to-do list.

Features of a good list:

  1. Have a date field. Ie, your list isn't a list of things to do "someday". It is a list sorted by date. Ie, I will do item 1-3 today; 4-6 tomorrow; etc. This will stop overcrowding your day, and avoid you having to prioritise on the fly. It will read more like your day's marching orders, and ideally be reasonably enough constructed to achieve all items on the list that day.

  2. Sequencing. Consider carefully how you sequence your list. Be mindful of things like putting the most important things each day at the top of the list. that way, if you do nothing else, at least you've done something really important that day. Be mindful of your energy levels. I like to have heavy tasks, which demand concentration, in the morning when I'm fresh; and "call grandma" in the afternoon, when I'm zonked anyway. It doesn't hurt to break the day up into morning/midday/afternoon, to give you a sense of how full each segment looks and when it is best to do what.

  3. Build Habits. Many items on my list have a little "R" next to them - R for Repeat. These are items I'm trying to build a habit around. Want to meditate once a day? stick it on the list in the appropriate time slot. Yoga twice a week? diarise it. Remember to appreciate life each day? remind yourself for a few weeks.

  4. Raise the bar. One of my tasks each week is to go through the list, slashing and burning. Is something not super important? get rid of it. Is it something that the world will suffer never happening? get rid. Something someone else will eventually do? get rid. When it comes to entry to the list, IF IT AIN'T HELL YEAH, IT'S HELL NO. A to-do list will attract all sorts of junk and overwhelm you. Be brutal in your whittling down of what makes the final cut.

Doing the above achieves two things. First, each day becomes a set of pre-determined actions. You sit down, open the list, and start to execute. Second, it allows you to materially increase your productivity through time/energy efficiency and prioritisation. You'll be amazed how much more gets done each day, and how much higher quality stuff; all through the efficient execution of the to-do list.

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