Like most people, I rely on my daily to-do list to be organized and stay on top of important projects. I used to have a wishful belief that if I put something on the list, I would get it done with relentless willpower and energy. However, that was far from reality. By the end of the day, I barely had half of them finished or even touched. Instead of making me feel fulfilled and productive, my to-do list became a source of frustration.
There were a few reasons why my to-do list did not work well. First, I underestimated the time each project needs. For example, the time for collecting and organizing information for an article often took much longer than I estimated. Second, I overestimated my energy—having strong willpower didn’t make me a superwoman. I simply couldn’t keep working on one project after another—my brain got tired and my eyes felt dry from staring at the computer screen for too long.
So, I decided to give it an overhaul by making three main changes:
I make a list draft and then cross out some items.
The full draft allows me to remember what projects should be on my radar. But not everything on the list is equally important and urgent. Removing the inessential ones helps me focus on the most important things.
This is inspired by Buffett’s 5/25 strategy, which suggests you list 25 goals you want to achieve and then circle the top 5 most important ones and stay focused on those goals. Only get to the unselected ones when you’ve achieved your primary goals.
I include specific tasks instead of the whole project on the list.
If I only put the project name such as “Tutorial on Publishing in Peer-reviewed Journals,” it’s vague and general and obviously it’s impossible to finish in one day. When the same project appears on my to-do list again and again for weeks and months, it feels endless and discouraging.
Now, I only include one or two specific tasks on the list, such as drafting “factors to consider when selecting target journals” or designing a checklist for manuscript submission. Even though they all belong to one big project, these tasks are more tangible and manageable and keep me stay on track.
I inserted tea breaks to my to-do list.
Working continuously doesn’t mean more efficiency and productivity. About every two hours, I take a 20-minute break to stand up and walk around, make myself a nice cup of tea, give a quick check of my social media, call a friend, or simply look out the window to relax my eyes and brain.
Those breaks are important for recharging energy and relieving stress. By putting them “officially” on my to-do list, I remind myself that tea breaks are not optional, but mandatory.
I am still making adjustments to my to-do list, but I am starting to see its benefits now—I am more productive and less stressful. That is a great feeling.