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Go for quality over quantity
It can be strangely tempting to write a million things on a to-do list (arrive at the office on time, clean space bar on keyboard, make eight cups of mint tea) just so you can gleefully and smugly tick off each thing one-by-one, half-yelling ‘DONE’ across the room to your envious colleagues. But this is not effective. It simply means we are wasting time on easy-to-complete tasks that don’t actually have a beneficial impact on our working day.
Many experts believe that you should have no more than THREE things on your to-do-list for any given day, and that these three tasks should truly be the meatiest, most important things you have to complete. For more productivity inspo, get yourself down to the Red Bull Can Do Sessions, a series of events to help you work smarter not harder. Check out RedBull.co.uk/Productivity for details.
Make your list visible
Writing a to-do-list is one thing, but it’s going to be worth squat if you simply brush it to the side and ignore it (in favour of endless Meryl Streep memes). Hold yourself accountable by making your to-do list almost ridiculously visible. Screenshot it and keep it as the temporary screensaver on your phone or computer. Go retro and print it out to physically stick to your PC monitor.
Send it to your colleagues and ask them, very nicely, to check in on you now and again to see how you’re getting on. You are much more likely to actually get stuff done if it’s there looming above you as a constant reminder.
Do the thing you least want to do first
Sorry, but ‘tis true. By putting the thing that brings you out in a cold sweat (i.e. calling out your boss on the particularly icy thing she said in that meeting yesterday) at the very top of your list, you are much more likely to actually do it. Make sure you complete this high-value task before you do anything else, be that checking emails or responding to phone calls, so that nothing else can distract or derail you. Plus, by doing all this stuff earlier in the day, you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to finish your work in time for home time (no more thankless over-time hours for YOU).
In fact, Red Bull is challenging the nation to be more productive and finish work early on National 4pm Finish Day – Friday, 15th September – so we can spend more time doing the things we actually enjoy. Hallelujah. Sign up at RedBull.com/4pmFinish to get involved.
Don’t just write ‘work on research paper’ or ‘make progress on project’. Yes, these are sort of actionable, but they are much too vague and you will find it far too easy to let yourself off the hook.
Instead, put down specific, manageable tasks that you can complete in one sitting, such as ‘fill out ridiculously complicated time sheet’ or ‘research and plan the first agenda point of upcoming meeting.’ By breaking these large, swirling projects into manageable snippets, you will simply get more done.
Do a mind dump
If you’re a worrier – one of those people who are constantly bombarded with thoughts about every little thing you have to get done (buy more yoghurt, call mum, fix the light pull in the bathroom) – give yourself five minutes and do an, ahem, brain dump. Set a timer on your phone and physically write down every single thing you can think of that you need to do in the next week (it can be personal or professional), just to get it out of your head. Then, and this is important, put that list away. It is NOT your to-do list, it is simply a cathartic release.
Once you have completed your three-point to-do list, you can return to this ‘master list’ and shift any time sensitive tasks onto your actual to-do list for the next day (and scrap any that are just ridiculous, like ‘detangle the cat’). Your fuzzy brain will be much clearer this way.