I was going to name this article “The Joy of Checking off Little Check Boxes”, but I figured this was more appropriate. Checking off little check boxes is only joyful if the list on which you’re checking them is well-made, and if the boxes actually mean something.

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Making a to-do list isn’t difficult. Simply write all the things you need to get done on a paper or on your notes app on your phone. Right? Welllll… sorta. Have you ever had the feeling where one day you’ve worked a ton but you got nothing done? You know you did a lot, but you have nothing to show for it and your to-do list certainly doesn’t look like it’s getting any shorter. That’s probably because your list wasn’t well made.

A good to-do list needs to have two things.

First, the tasks on it need to take more than a minute. If the tasks take less than a minute (or a few minutes), you can probably lump them into one bigger task. For example, “confirm lunch with the marketing person” and “thank Maria for sending over the shipment” can both fall into one task called “Answer immediately relevant emails” or something similar.

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Second, the tasks have to be short enough that you don’t feel like you’re working on them for more than half a day. The reason it feels like you’ve “been working all day but didn’t get anything done” is because the tasks you’re working on are just too big. For example, “research different artificial sweeteners” can be broken into

  • “determine which artificial sweeteners to research”
  • “find some sources on sucralose”
  • “find some sources on aspartame”
  • “find some sources on Acesulfame K”

and so on.

If the tasks on your list are not too long and not too short, and are actually meaningful toward reaching your goal, you’ll feel more productive when you accomplish those tasks.

I think that while it’s really important to know what your goals and tasks are, it’s equally important to feel like you’re actually reaching something when you work. It’s taken me a little while to get to the point where I feel that most days, my lists are well made and my work is productive, but now I feel confident about it and I’m going to go check off “write an article about to-do lists” from my to-do list.  ?