From A Life Less Bullshit:
3. Stop “cherry-picking” your to-do list
My most unproductive days always have one main thing in common: I work through my to-do list in a haphazard order, doing just the easiest things and procrastinating on the bigger, scarier – and much more important – ones. In short, I cherry-pick my to-do list. This month, though, I’m working with a new strategy. First, I brain-dump everything I think needs to get done that day. Then, instead of jumping into that mess by choosing whatever I most want to work on, I re-write the list in a specific, thoughtful order. Which of these things is most important? That one gets the top spot on the list. What’s most important after that? Which tasks need to be done consecutively? And on and on until I have a to-do list that’s much smarter. Then, I start at the top of the list and work on the first task until it’s complete. When it’s complete, I cross it off and move to the second item on the list. I don’t give myself the option of bouncing around, so I don’t waste time wondering what to do next and I don’t waste emotional energy feeling bad about procrastinating on the biggest thing. Oh, and a big bonus of this system is that it works perfectly with the way I check my email, because completing one or two tasks gives me a clear break-point in which to do 30 minutes of email before getting started on the next thing on my list. All in all, it’s a way to create a bias toward real action, because you have to get the first thing on the list accomplished in order to move onto the second thing, and so on.
Over the past year, I have improved from scrawls on scraps of paper to putting my tasks into specific days into Tasks on my Google Calendar like Around the World L, but my priorities aren’t defined clearly. I have a bunch of tasks that I just keep moving forward to the next day, and my only attempt at prioritization is to put an asterisk in the name of must-do tasks so that they get bumped to the top of the list. I also am guilty of doing tasks not on the list and then adding them to the list so I can check them off. It’s time to smarten up my to-do list for MITs: most important tasks.
So there you have it–my next week will be an experiment in email timing, bookends, and MITs!