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To-do lists are great for prioritizing tasks, but not so great at helping us accomplish them. Supercharge your productivity by transforming your humble to-do-list into a how-to-do list.
Want to cross more off your to-do list – in less time?
Turn it into a “how-to-do” list.
That’s the revelation I had while reminiscing about a fantastic sailing trip I took not long ago.
It was a dream voyage – a few friends, a week of sailing and an opportunity to visit interesting new places.
Because we would be crossing some unfamiliar waters, preparation was vital. We spent hours poring over navigation charts to plot our course and define the tasks we’d need to perform on each day’s journey. We also identified the tools and technologies for getting us to our destination and back safely, securely packing a compass, maps, charts, GPS and even an EPRIB emergency locator beacon.
Those preparations, combined with favorable weather and friendly people, resulted in an unforgettable trip.
While reflecting on the journey, I had my revelation: That extra level of preparation – outlining not just the necessary tasks but also how to address them – could also pay dividends in the workplace.
The Trouble with To-Do Lists
Which brings us back to to-do lists. Sure, they are indispensible tools for organizing our work, and I’m always amazed at the wide variety of them. They’re in Outlook, on our smartphones, on paper calendars, or, in the case of one of my colleagues, scrawled on a sticky note and pasted to his desk every day.
The trouble with ordinary to-do lists is that while they nicely summarize and prioritize what we need to get done, they don’t provide guidance on how to complete those tasks most effectively.
We need to transform the to-do list into a “how-to-do” list. As a logical extension of a to-do list, a how-to-do list enables us to identify all the resources – such as technologies, devices, supporting work environment, other knowledge workers and more – we need to successfully complete our day’s tasks.
This allows us to neatly organize our tasks to make the workday more productive. Plus it can be especially helpful to employees who work in noisy areas, such as open or activity-based work spaces.
Using a how-to-do list we can organize tasks to avoid, or at least minimize, work-related interruptions, water cooler gossip and myriad other workplace intrusions that rob us of three-to-five hours of productivity per day. For instance, a desk in the middle of a chaotic environment is not optimal for writing a report or conducting a videoconference. A how-to-do list helps us identify and book in advance a quieter location for completing these tasks.
We can also choose when we do our best work. As we know from a previous blog, our brains are wired so that mornings are better for tasks that require concentration while afternoons are better for collaborating with others.
A Closer Look
Turning your to-do list into a how-to-do list is easy. Simply record the tasks to be finished that day, as you’d normally do, then take things a step farther by identifying the resources you need to accomplish each task.
As an illustration, let’s look at my how-to-dos for a recent task. Among the day’s work was to review a proposal for a new product and evaluate its feasibility. Knowing that I would need some time to concentrate, I booked a quiet room to read the proposal without interruption. Anticipating that I may have questions, I checked the report writer’s availability status online in case we needed to discuss it, and I sent him a short instant message to alert him that I may be contacting him. And because he works remotely, I made sure my wireless headset was at the ready.
I did the same for the dozen or so other items I needed to get done that day. The process only took about 10 minutes, and it helped me develop a clear roadmap for smoothly completing everything I needed to accomplish that day.
I’m sure that a “how-to-do” list makes me more productive, and I’ll bet it can do the same for you. Give it a try!