3 strategic ways to organize your task list and manage your to-dos

3 strategic ways to organize your task list and manage your to-dos

The way you organize your workday can impact how satisfied you are with how you use your time. If you want to end more days feeling like you got the most you could out of them, consider how you’re ordering your to-dos and whether a more strategic approach—or a different strategy if you’re already using one—might prove fruitful.

Here are three to consider…

1. By importance/urgency

You’ve got several things on your task list for the day. Take a few minutes to consider them through the lens of the Eisenhower Matrix.

 
 

Now order your task list as follows:

1. Important, time-sensitive tasks first, in order of urgency E.g., Replying to a coworker with the information they need in order to move forward with their work belongs ahead of finishing a report that’s due in two days. Both are important and time-sensitive, but one is more urgent.

2. Important but not urgent tasks next, ordered by value E.g., Reaching out to a current client might get priority over following up on a new business pitch.

3. Then necessary and time-sensitive to-dos that nonetheless don’t move the needle on your business or professional growth (These are the tasks that Eisenhower would’ve delegated, and if that’s an option for you, by all means, delegate!) E.g., Sending out a calendar invite for an internal meeting next week could come before returning library books, depending on your library’s fee schedule.

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4. The fourth category in the Eisenhower Matrix is for things that tend to get your attention, but are neither urgent nor important and—the purists say—should therefore be cut out of your life completely. For example, social media ends up in this category for a lot of people. And if the purist approach appeals to you, go ahead. Get ruthless. For the less austere, we recommend adding fourth category pursuits to your task lists. Not because they're important or urgent, but because you'll likely spend less time on them if you take the mindlessness out of the equation. Or maybe just because you enjoy them.

Life is not about becoming the most efficient, problem-solving, value-creation machine you can become. It’s also about fulfillment and enjoyment. So if there are unimportant, un-urgent things you love? They aren’t actually unimportant.

John Greene

2. By difficulty/level of focus required

This strategy assumes two things: 1) that your mind is freshest at the start of your day and 2) that your capacity for intense focus is limited. With these assumptions firmly in mind, you stack your most demanding tasks at the top of your task list and buckle down on them first. Using the same to-dos as our previous example, here’s what the day would look like with this organizational strategy:

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The goal of this approach is to ensure that you have the cognitive bandwidth to complete your most difficult tasks. But it also creates momentum—with enough upfront effort, you can practically glide through the second half of your workday. Think of it like this: by organizing your tasks by difficulty, you’re turning your workday into a hill that you climb in the morning and sail down in the afternoon.

3. By task type

You could apply this final strategy to just your days by grouping similar tasks together (e.g., all email related to-dos) and working each group, one after the other. Or you could batch similar tasks by day, dedicating Friday to email and other administrative to-dos, for example, and not touching them any other day of the week. The idea here is to keep context switching to a minimum—it takes different mental “muscles” to write a formal report than it does to write an email, for example. By batching tasks that require similar resources together, you get in the zone more easily than if you switch things up, and you stay there longer.

Here’s how a single day organized this way might look:

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The first four tasks are all outgoing communications, ordered by the amount of communication necessary (e.g. the first requires almost no actual writing, the second a bit, and so on). The fourth to-do is a personal task to complete on a break. The fifth is completely different than all the others, requiring concentrated focus for an extended period of time.

If we were batching by week, this day might look more like this:

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This is a day plan that’s all about outgoing communications and light, administrative to-dos… perfect for a Friday.

A little process development goes a long way.

You could combine strategies—batching your work by the day and also sorting those similar tasks in order of difficulty, for example—or find a different one altogether. Whatever you choose, the point isn’t to surface a bulletproof way of making every day awesome. There isn’t one, no matter what the productivity influencers say. The point is to think strategically about the varied things you need to do and how they might best fit together in your day. For our part, while Daycast doesn’t require that tasks be performed in any order whatsoever (real life often defies our preferred sequencing), we’ve found that mindfully ordering tasks can yield outsized benefits in productivity and general wellbeing. Our strategies vary, and none of us are purists. Like planning in general, the thought put into organizing a task list is the real investment, not rigidly sticking to that order.