The Science Behind the To-Do List
There was a time when my to-do list wasn’t beneficial and, in fact, may have been holding me back from hitting my peak productivity. I am happy to report that with 41 percent of tasks left unaccomplished, I was not the only one experiencing to-do list failure. With admittance out of the way, we can start the three-step process for making your to-do list a more successful tool.
Step 1: Add every task to the list, even if it seems overwhelming at the time.
It’s hard not to feel a bit stressed when your never-ending checklist only continues to stack up, but wouldn’t forgetting to finish a project be even more upsetting in the long run? Do not fret over the additions you make to your document (handwritten or digital), because in the end, your task list is a reminder of the things you don’t want to let fall by the wayside.
Our bodies have a built-in reminder (like a nagging parent) that doesn’t like when we forget to finish things, but it isn’t so great at remembering exactly what those things were (unlike a nagging parent). This is called the Zeigarnik Effect, and it is the answer to why you sometimes walk into your kitchen and forget what you wanted as soon as you open the fridge.
Enter Unfinished Tasks and Save Items in a New Folder
Step 2: File tasks in a manner that makes sense to you and your body.
Writing down all the tasks that you have to do is the first step in battling the Zeigarnik Effect, but not in keeping your sanity. Allowing yourself to have tasks that will not be completed immediately is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
As a recruiter or hiring manager, your job isn’t anything like a factory worker. You do not stand at one machine all day, doing only one task non-stop until your shift is through. One part of your day may be reaching out to leads, while the other may be interviewing candidates. Separate the to-do list into categories that delineate what part of your job a certain task might belong to. I use “administrative,” “business development,” “financial,” and “miscellaneous” as my categories.
Similar to paragraph indentations, this visually breaks up the entire document, tricking the brain into not fixating on the sheer amount of things that need to get done. This also makes it easier to focus certain parts of your day on a specific type of work, allowing you to be more productive in accomplishing tasks. For instance, the morning is a better time for tackling schedules and ATSs (critical thinking), while the afternoon is better for writing job descriptions and correspondence (creative thinking).
Prioritize and Accept the Changes You Cannot Control
Step 3: Promise to assign each task a reasonable deadline, and accept that some things are out of your control.
Generally, when a new project surfaces, the time to finish it is apparent. Categorize what things need to be done by the end of the day, this week, next week, and next month, then mark these tasks with color-coding, stars, or highlighting. To completely evade the Zeigarnik Effect, move every task that can wait to be done to another document titled, “Tomorrow.”
When you start the next workday, give yourself five minutes to go over the “Tomorrow” document. Select the top priority for that day and get to work. The Muse suggests a 1-3-5 system that my CEO swears by: decide your goals for the day by focusing on one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks. It’s okay to be flexible, as recruiting and hiring can be slow one day and a rush the next, but stick to hitting as many goals as possible.
Like that journal you started as a pre-teen, to-do lists get a bad reputation as a habit everyone starts and to which no one sticks. As with any habit, changing and developing new processes is intimidating and seemingly impossible, but with a few promises to yourself and this three-step program, there’s no way you will fail.
Do you have a foolproof to-do list, calendar system, or productivity life hack? Let us know in the comments!