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How to Create To-Do Lists That Boost Your Productivity Levels to New Heights

Updated: May 21, 2019

As a super-busy executive, you know that 168 hours in a week is just not enough. You’re consistently drowning in emails, swamped by streams of meetings, and overwhelmed by a backlog of initiatives. To more effectively prioritize your days, you’ve probably attempted to create to-do lists. Yes, the most successful executives create to-do lists. For many of you, your to-do lists likely quickly transform into guilt lists or repositories of all the things you had valiant hopes of completing but couldn't seem to get around to finishing.

Fortunately, all hope is not lost. By adhering to a few simple guidelines, you can build more effective to-do lists that boost your productivity and efficiency levels.

1. Create a to-don't list to accompany your to-do list

When coupled with a to-do list, a to-don’t list can be a force multiplier in terms of helping you remain productive. We all have many Achilles' heels when it comes to surmounting our to-do lists. Email distractions are a typical offender. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in a task, the minor disturbance caused by a seemingly innocuous email or chat message can wreak havoc on our productivity levels. A University of London experiment found that we lose up to 10 IQ points when our work is interrupted by small distractions such as emails.

In creating your to-don't list, objectively brainstorm the primary tendencies that tend to prevent you from triumphing over to-do list tasks.

● Don’t check email between the hours of 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm.

● Don’t respond to text messages at work, unless during a break.

● Don’t sit next to activities or colleagues who will distract you.

● Don’t work for more than two hours without taking a five-minute break.

2. Jot it on a post-it note

A lengthy to-do list is not indicative of a productive person; it's suggestive of an unfocused one. When it comes to to-do lists, simplicity is critical. In his 1956 paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information,” George Miller explains that the human brain is only capable of housing five to nine pieces of information in its working memory at any given time.

Writing your to-do list on a single post-it note will force you to focus on a limited number of tasks (five to nine). This process will ensure your cognitive load isn’t overwhelmed by a laundry list of tasks and, in turn, will go a long way concerning keeping your stress levels in check.

3. Position your most mentally taxing task second or third on your to-do list

Most people default to implanting their most crucial task at the top of their to-do list. Often, this strategy backfires. It’s daunting to embark on a workday confronted by a rigorous, mentally-taxing task. Instead, start your workday with a less intensive task. By postponing your most intensive task, you’ll be able to exploit the far-reaching psychological benefits of “small wins.” In her ground-breaking research, Harvard University’s Teresa Amabile found that monitoring small wins heightens our motivation levels. The sense of pride we feel by knocking off one or two tasks from our to-do list will fuel our motivation and empower us to conquer our most taxing task.

A 2012 LinkedIn study found that a mere 11% of professionals worldwide can finish everything on their to-do list by the end of an average workday. By following the tips mentioned above, you’ll be able to improve your chances of success. Don't despair if you're unable to conquer your to-do lists every day. Simply writing down your daily objectives will increase your odds of success. Research has shown that we're 42% more apt to achieve our goals if we just write them down.

The key to success in the workplace is prioritization. An executive coach can help you identify the full range of obstacles, whether tied to productivity or otherwise, that are holding you back from reaching your objectives. Who would have thought that an item of office stationery would amount to a step in the right direction?


Dr. Nadine Greiner PhD, Executive Coaching San Francisco

Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.

As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’.

Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at or by phone at (415) 861-8383.


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