Daily To-Do Lists

I’ve picked up hundreds of different techniques for productivity but relatively few of them stick. Some of them may be good ideas but I just don’t see them fitting well into my life and others are downright lousy.

Four months ago I dumped a huge proportion of the built in habits and productivity techniques I had gathered up over the past year and a half. Consider it like a bit of personal development spring cleaning. Although many of these techniques were effective, I found that their subtle costs were becoming restricting in a new environment.

I think the most interesting part about this whole adjustment was simply what stuck. Those techniques that were incredibly valuable and easy to use seemed to stick with me despite my vigorous overhaul. One of these techniques is keeping a daily to-do list.

Every night before I go to sleep I write inside a binder all of my goals for the next day. I put a little checkbox beside each one of these items. I keep the binder open all the time for reference and whenever I complete one I check it off. After I finish this blog entry I’m going to check off that item.

This may seem a little simplistic and mundane, but out of all the things I have tried (GTD, day-planners, calendar systems, various lists etc.) this one has been the easiest to maintain and has an incredibly power to keep me productive during the day. I notice my productivity drop to only half or a third of its normal effectiveness if I somehow forget to do this.

Even more importantly than checking off the items is that I write an ‘X’ next to any item that I failed to do that day. These checks and x’s seem to form a very minor reward/punishment system that keeps me productive each day.

If you want to add this little productivity tidbit to your life here’s how:

  1. Get a binder or book that you can record things in.
  2. Place the binder in a place where you can refer to it often, especially where most the tasks will take place (office, home, in briefcase).
  3. At the end of each day mark an ‘X’ next to each item you failed to complete. Then write down your goals for the next day.
  4. When you look at your book and notice you’ve completed an item, give it a check.

Soon you will start being able to determine how much you can do each day, what are reasonable goals and how to effectively plan your goals.

I’ve been using this system for over a year now and if there was one tool I would recommend to get you more organized and productive, this would be it. Complex ideas may sound slick but they just end up being a hassle to use and manage. Sticking simple is the first step to stress free productivity.