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Why You Should Break Up with Your To-Do List

to do list.

We all start with the same 24 hours in a day, yet some people seem to be far more productive with their time than others. What’s their secret? They’ve replaced their to-do list with time blocking.

Time blocking is a time management approach that organizes your day into a series of time slots with specific tasks assigned to each slot. Rather than reacting to whatever is next on your to-do list, time blocking proactively aligns your time with your most important tasks. Shifting from a to-do list to time blocking can increase productivity by 150 percent, reports the time management app Toggl.

Here’s how time blocking addresses four common to-do list problems:

Problem: Too many to-do list items, no plan for action.
Solution: Block time for specific tasks on your calendar.
Start turning your to-do list into an action plan by assigning estimated time values to every item on your to-do list. Next, identify which items require peak cognitive power (like a creative project) versus “busy work” tasks (like filing or invoicing). Now, consider the structure of your day. What nonnegotiables, like a midday workout, need to be on your calendar each day? When are your peak productivity periods? If you’re most creative in the morning, for example, schedule your most important task then. Consider when you need a mental break. For example, you might assign administrative tasks to a 15-minute window following a one-hour intensive work session. Finally, consider which tasks (like a meeting or call) will require follow-up and block an extra 15-minutes after that task. Now you've taken a long list of tasks and turned them into a clear plan for action.

Problem: Simple tasks take up too much time.
Solution: Increase efficiency with a short time limit.
Without a concrete time limit, a seemingly simple task can quickly sprawl, taking over your schedule. Setting a short time limit provides a singular focus and clear "start" and "end" points. For example, you might block 20 minutes every afternoon for administrative housekeeping. Knowing you have a short time limit increases efficiency and focus. When the time limit is up, stop working and move on to your next project.

Problem: Interruptions distract you from your main focus.
Solution: Institute "office hours" on your time block schedule.
Do constant coworker interruptions, emails, and phone calls distract you from your main focus? If so, consider instituting "office hours" at set points during your day. For example, you might only check email three times per day or ask coworkers to refrain from interrupting you during a "peak productivity period" in the mornings. Clearly communicate your availability and then stick to these scheduled office hours.

Problem: Urgent tasks distract you from long-term projects.
Solution: Block 30 minutes first thing in the morning for your long-term projects.
When you’re jumping from one urgent client need to the next, long-term projects with extended deadlines are often pushed to the back burner. These projects, like updating your website or creating new marketing materials, are important to your future business but don't require immediate attention. Unfortunately, since they aren't labeled “urgent," once your day gets underway it can be difficult to find time to focus on this work. Use time blocking to prioritize these projects before the daily grind begins. Block 30 minutes each morning dedicated to your long-term projects. The time investment is minimal, and by doing this first thing you’ll be able to bring greater focus to your work. Over the course of several weeks, you may be surprised by just how much progress you’re able to make!


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