Earning

To get things done, make a to-do list and an 'ignore list,' says productivity expert: 'It's all about prioritizing'

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Key Points
  • Instead of getting frustrated by uncompleted tasks on your to-do list, create a separate list of tasks you can ignore.
  • "People say, 'Everything is important. Everything is urgent,'" says Paula Rizzo, author of "Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed."
  • "It's actually not. Some things that are important are not urgent."

If you're the type of person who gains great satisfaction from crossing something off their to-do list, it's likely that uncompleted tasks that keep getting transferred from one list to the next drive you crazy.

Instead of getting frustrated or distracted by those pesky outliers, create a separate list of tasks you can ignore for now, says Paula Rizzo, author of "Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed."

Creating an "ignore list" will help you focus on what you can actually accomplish and not get engrossed in tasks that aren't in your bandwidth that day.

"People say, 'Everything is important. Everything is urgent,'" she says. "It's actually not. Some things that are important are not urgent."

Create and prioritize a daily list

Create a list of everything that, in an ideal world, you'd be able to complete in a day. This can include quick tasks like, "Pay the internet bill," or longer ones like, "Work on my book proposal."

Then, Rizzo says, look at the list and ask yourself a couple questions:

  • What do I have to do today?
  • What do I have time to do today?

It is easier to answer these questions if you know how long your to-dos take, Rizzo adds. One day, time your tasks and see how long it actually takes you to complete them. For example, you might allot 30 minutes to answering emails when it only takes you 15.

Knowing this information is crucial to creating a realistic to-do list.

Write a new list of tasks you can ignore for now

After identifying tasks that don't need to be done or that simply can't be done that day due to time constraints, put them on a separate "ignore" list.

"It's all about prioritizing," she says. "You can work at anything at any point in the day, but is it the right thing?"

This way you can give your undivided attention to tasks you can actually complete that day, and not feel guilty or worn out by tasks that aren't even urgent.

If the label "ignore list" doesn't feel right to you, you could choose a name that implies you'll get to the items on it later, suggests Raquel Benbunan-Fich, a professor of information systems at Baruch College who specializes in user behavior and multitasking.

"I think it is important to use meaningful labels for task lists because their collective name influences how you approach the tasks included in those lists," she says. "So, instead of 'ignore list,' I would use some other name such as 'not urgent task list' or 'deferred task list.'"

Use a label that makes you feel comfortable putting the tasks off until a better time but not like you're abandoning them altogether.

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