Are you pretty sure your head will explode if you think about all the stuff you need to do? Does your to-do list start waving itself in your face before you even open your eyes in the morning?
If so, take a deep breath. The good news is there are lots of great productivity techniques that can tame your beastly to-do list. Together, let's look at three popular methods and see which one works best for you.
We’ll start old-school, with pen and paper.
The first method is what its name implies. Write down everything you want or need to do. No detail is too big or small.
How to use the brain-dump method:
Here’s a quick video:
Work from this schedule all day. The next day, you can either pick up where you left off or create a new sheet. If you prefer working online, copy your list into a document, spreadsheet or project-management tool. You can quiet the nagging voice in your head, knowing nothing will slip through the cracks.
The Brain Dump works well when you have a lot on your mind. It also helps to jump-start your productivity. It's not recommended for longer-term, complex projects or those with competing #1 projects.
Time-Blocking offers a good middle-ground choice. Its success comes from the power of prioritization, flexibility and realistic attention spans. Your brain can only work on something well for 60 to 90 minutes. For that reason, Time-Blocking organizes your day into two-hour blocks, including short breaks. Each block focuses on an area of business or a specific group of tasks. Blocks can also be set aside for running errands or taking a yoga class.
Here’s a quick explainer video:
Time-Blocking works well when you're avoiding or struggling with certain tasks. It encourages you to tackle your biggest tasks first. Brian Tracy delves into this approach in his popular book Eat That Frog!*
Start by blocking in your early morning routine. If you don’t have one, I recommend creating one. In fact, download this infographic I created a few years ago for my clients on 10 good routines to put in place. Place this routine in Block 0 (usually between 6am and 9am), ensuring that you start out your day right by taking care of yourself.
Then devote Block 1 to the most important task of the day. Early and big wins set a positive, ambitious tone for the day.
Making progress on and finishing these bigger projects turbo-charges your motivation. You’ll begin to crave the reward that comes with finishing each task before moving on to the next one.
If you already have a to-do list, place those items in the time blocks based on how long you think it’ll take to do them. Complex, longer-term projects with competing #1 tasks would benefit most from a project-management tool which is the third method.
For longer-term or more complex projects, try a project-planning tool such as Trello. Such tools are especially helpful for projects that last a month or more.
As with the other methods, these tools allow you to list everything you need to do, big or small. Visual learners will appreciate being able to see all of their upcoming projects at a glance in calendar view.
In Trello, you can divide tasks into buckets like “Not Doing,” “Doing,” and “Done.” This frees up mental space for more creative pursuits. Your “Not Doing” bucket is like a computerized, dynamic version of your Brain Dump.
You’re still getting everything out of your brain but instead of dumping it onto paper you’re placing it in a bucket. Moving tasks from “Not Doing” to “Doing” to “Done” is so satisfying you want to keep going.
No matter which method you try, there's only one thing to do: jump in. The mere act of naming all the tasks you need to do and moving them out of your brain provides instant stress relief. Choose a method that best suits your needs. If you’re overwhelmed, try the Brain Dump. If you’re avoiding or struggling with an important task, try Time-Blocking. Longer-term, complex projects with multiple tasks lend themselves well to a project-planning tool.
You can mix and match methods to create a bespoke system.
Once you find what works for you, practice, practice, practice. Before you know it, you’ll get more done while also enjoying the spaciousness of a less-cluttered mind.
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