It may not be considered the most significant debate of all time. But, when it comes to productivity, there’s long been an argument on which is more effective. A to-do list or calendar?
For many, to-do lists are pretty valuable. They can make you feel more organized, assist with planning, and provide clarity. But, on the flip side, they’re overwhelming and stressful. Another problem? We’ll often focus on the easiest task first — even if it’s not a priority.
Moreover, a calendar actually accounts for time. Also, it can change your behavior and help you accomplish your goals. And, with a calendar, you can turn tasks into tangible items.
It’s no wonder when Kevin Kruse interviewed more than 200 billionaires, entrepreneurs, Olympians, and straight-A students regarding productivity and time management; they all worked and lived by their Calendar.
So, with that in mind, here’s how you can schedule your to-do list on your calendar.
Don’t clutter your calendar; define the value of your tasks.
“Most of the to-do lists we draw up are litanies of tedious tasks,” says Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you fill up your calendar with reminders for daily action items, you run the risk of spending all of your time focused on specific things you have to accomplish.”
But isn’t that the very purpose of a to-do list?
Well, kind of. “Like it or not, some of the things we need to get done at work are tedious, annoying, or boring,” Markman adds. “But if you confront yourself each day with reminders of only the least enjoyable parts of your job, it’ll probably wind up sapping your motivation to come to work.”
Markman solves this dilemma efficiently. First, look at the bigger picture. Then, make your to-do list related to your bigger goals. When you do, you’ll feel more motivated.
How can you achieve this? Include a sentence explaining why you will benefit from an accomplishment on your to-do list. Knowing why something needs to be done will motivate you to complete it.
This solution has another aspect that I like. With it, you can identify what isn’t worth your time. You might as well delete a task if you cannot determine its value.
This will allow you to create a to-do list that is more manageable, less stressful, and easier to scan. And, because you have a leaner list, this means you won’t clutter your calendar with unimportant tasks.
Set up a to-do list for every day of the week.
Are you still overwhelmed by your to-do list even after deleting your no/low-value and nice-to-have items? Then, for each week or day, you can create a to-do list based on one of the following strategies:
- MITs. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits recommends focusing on one to three daily tasks. Your most important tasks (MITs) should take precedence over all other work until they have been completed.
- 1-3-9. Decide to focus on 13 tasks every day at the beginning of the workday. Among the tasks on the list, one is a high priority, three are medium-priority, and nine are low priority. First, complete the high-priority items, followed by the medium-priority items, and then the low-priority items.
- Ivy Lee Method. Every evening, choose six tasks to focus on the next day, in priority order. Those six tasks will then be worked on the following day in priority order until all six are completed.
You can complete these exercises at the beginning of every week or the beginning of each day, depending on the size of your tasks. When you only need to accomplish a few tasks per day, daily will likely be sufficient. Prioritizing weekly, however, is recommended when you have mainly multi-day tasks.
Begin by taking it easy.
It doesn’t matter whether you use MITs, 1-3-9, or the Ivy Lee Method, make a few simple items on your to-do list. And add them to your calendar.
“Make the bed,” “return a client’s phone call,” or “organize my desk” are all excellent examples. Even if it’s just crossing off routine stuff helps us feel super-productive or gain momentum when procrastinating.
Ideally, you may want to stack these habits. For example, making your bed as soon as you wake up or making phone calls after lunch.
Break it down.
What method you use for breaking down your projects into tasks will be determined by the type of project you’re working on. You can divide your projects into three categories:
- Phases, such as software development.
- Categories, like planning a conference — booking a venue, hiring a caterer, and creating an agenda.
- Parts, think cleaning and organizing different areas of your office.
However, there are some projects in between these categories, and many of them are not clear-cut. Due to this, and based on our understanding of the process itself, we can approach the breakdown of a project to meet our specific needs.
Your project consists of identifying what tasks need to be completed, how they are interdependent, and their deadlines. Having all three, you can come up with a solid breakdown.
There’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars when it comes to goals. However, we can trip up the practical parts of achieving our overarching goals when we dwell on what we want from life.
Every task list should have these characteristics to help you accomplish your goals:
- There are physical actions involved.
- You can finish them in a single session.
- Only the writer of a to-do list can complete these tasks.
In case of general projects requiring lots of time or the assistance of others, list specific steps you need to take. For instance, organize a beach cleanup rather than declaring to “clean the ocean.”
Schedule a power hour.
“I try to have at least one power hour each day,” notes Choncé Maddox’s previous Calendar article. “It’s a time where I get into a state of hyperfocus, eliminate distractions and take care of my important tasks for the day.” You can effectively tackle all of your to-do list items during this time.
There is no set length for a power hour. It is up to you how long it is — whether it’s literally an hour or three. “Just realize, the more time you give yourself, the easier it will be to get distracted,” she advises.
“The more often you schedule a power hour, the less hectic your to-do list will seem.” Of course, it’s okay to have an unproductive day now and then. “But just keep working in your power hours to stay on top of things overall,” adds Choncé.
Allocate enough time for each task.
Make sure you block out enough time to complete each task in your calendar. The key? Get really honest with yourself.
In your calendar, schedule sixty minutes if you know it will take you an hour to finish a task. In other words, hour-long tasks cannot be crammed into 15-minute slots.
What if you aren’t aware of how long a task takes you to complete? Time it — see how long it takes you to complete using time tracking software. Then, as you continue to schedule your to-do list items on your calendar, you can review past calendars for reference.
Leverage your circadian rhythms.
“Humans have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day: our circadian process, which is often referred to as a circadian rhythm because it tends to be very regular,’ writes Christopher Barnes on HBR. “If you’ve ever had jet lag, you know how persistent circadian rhythms can be,” he emphasizes. “This natural — and hardwired — ebb and flow in our ability to feel alert or sleepy has important implications for” each person.
To put it simply, we must consider our own circadian rhythms when scheduling tasks.
“The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness (within an hour or so of noon and 6 pm),” Barnes suggests. “The least important tasks should be scheduled for times when alertness is lower (very early in the morning, around 3 pm, and late at night).”
Add a little cushion time.
I can’t stress this enough. Always allow yourself 15 minutes of “cushion time” between items in your calendar.
Why? Because this gives you some leeway.
I’ll give you an example. Since I was working from home today, I caught up on laundry while taking a break. When I went to switch the load over to the dryer, I was met with an undrained washer. Obviously, I couldn’t leave my clothes there. So, I had to ring them out as much as possible before moving them into the dryer. After that, I had to get the water out and resolve the problem.
After a quick YouTube video, I determined it was a quick fix. And thankfully, I got the washer working. But, it still ate up an hour of my day.
Due to my flexible calendar, I could attend to this emergency without affecting my scheduled tasks.
Remember to breathe during a crisis. I’m sure you have already completed an MIT. And, whatever you didn’t get to today can be penciled in for tomorrow.
Make your goals visual.
“Finally, the thing that absolutely solves the calendar vs. to-do list debate in my book is the fact that your calendar can help you visualize your goals and priorities much better,” asserts Choncé. We’re all busy and have a lot on our plates. That’s only corroborated by your long list of things to do.
“We often tend to waste so much time and energy trying to do everything when we should just prioritize our tasks and fit what’s important into our schedule,” adds Choncé. “For example, let’s say you have a goal to get healthier this year and prioritize exercise.”
For example, the thought of adding exercise to your to-do list might sound more like a burden than a help. “However, adding 60 minutes of exercise to your calendar seems more doable.”
You’re far more likely to achieve your fitness goals by including exercise in your daily routine.
Image credit: Anete Lusina; Pexels; Thank you!