How to Stop Failing to Complete Your To-Do List

You know that you’re capable of doing it, and yet, somehow you never get everything done that you planned. The checklist of tasks you created –– be it written on a scrap of paper, using a template within a project management software program or simply concocted in your head –– that seemed so promising in the morning is often in tatters by lunchtime, destroyed by all of the unexpected distractions that popped up.

There may be no foolproof way to completely eliminate distractions and turns of events, but there are a number of strategies –– some backed by research –– that can help you tackle and complete your to-do list.

You’re not planning ahead

The problem with making your plans in the morning is that you’re often anxious to begin working and likely to be influenced by the first co-worker who tasks you with something. The best time to create a to-do list is the night before. When you’re relaxed and clear-headed, take five or ten minutes to consider all of the things that you want to accomplish the next day.

First, think of time-sensitive tasks that need to be completed and rank them based on when they need to get done. Take a look at that first round of need-to-do tasks and think about how long they will take to complete. Write down how long you expect to work on each task. It might be 20 minutes or it might be two hours, but try your best to realistically assess how long each job will take, so you don’t spend time working inefficiently.

If you believe that you will have time to address longer-range tasks, then jot those down as well, along with the amount of time you’d like to commit to them.

You’re not learning from mistakes

Creating a checklist and trying to stick to it is the most important step in effectively planning your workday. The next step is recognizing where your plans are going awry. The most common explanation will be that you underestimated the amount of time a task would take, leaving you unable to complete the entire list. In the end, you feel like a failure as you are forced to ignore the app alerts instructing you to start a new task. Research has found that despite our best intentions to tick off what we need to do, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to focus back on a task after an interruption.

Recognizing that a task that you believed you could do in one hour actually takes at least triple that time is a very important piece of knowledge that you can use to more accurately plan your workdays in the future, allowing you to more consistently deliver on deadlines. Having a better idea of how much time certain work takes also allows you to more easily make and keep plans with family and friends, as there will be fewer last-minute calls to cancel a get-together because something is taking longer to do than expected.  

In addition to learning from your own errors, you should try to periodically read something new about project management or time management strategies – or even consider taking part in a formal project management training course.

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You’re not planning your free time

Are you capable of working for eight straight hours? More importantly, are you capable of working eight hours (or more) every day for the entire year? Remember that a to-do list shouldn’t solely be focused on work tasks – you should also factor in the invaluable time you need to do other things that you enjoy throughout the day, such as reading the newspaper, phoning a friend or taking a walk after lunch. It’s easy to forget to include these into the time you’re at work, which then affects the rest of the time allocated on your task list.

The solution is not to suppress your urge to step away from work, but to budget for that free time on your checklist and try to hold yourself to it. Plan for small breaks during which you can do things that you would otherwise be doing intermittently throughout the day, such as catching up on the latest news or writing personal emails.

Research has shown that one of the benefits of taking a vacation is not just the actual break from work, but the anticipation of the break that results from planning it ahead of time. The same principle applies for smaller, daily breaks that you provide yourself throughout the week.

You’re not coordinating with your team

Your plans won't mean much if your co-workers aren’t in the loop. In many instances, completing a task requires close coordination with other members of the team. Staying in communication with other employees is key to preventing you or others from duplicating work and making mistakes.

How can you coordinate better with your team? There is no shortage of apps and checklist templates claiming to simplify this process, with mixed results. Luckily, technology continues to develop and improve in this area, making it easier than ever to stay in touch with employees, clients and collaborators.

Most recently, Timesheet Mobile unveiled Project+, a comprehensive project management, messaging and task management tool. You can set up multiple checklists for different projects that can be shared with all who are involved. People can check off items as they are completed, letting everybody else on the team know that the task is done. Project+ instantly translates all communications into English, French, German and Spanish, allowing workers to seamlessly interact across different languages.

The Team Chat feature allows co-workers to communicate in a centralized manner, ensuring that everyone is collaborating upon the same up-to-date instructions for all client projects. Unlike standalone project management tools, Project+ is integrated into Timesheet Mobile’s time card app so that managers can track the amount of time that workers are spending on a given project or task. The GPS-enabled geofence also ensures that workers are punching in and punching out upon arriving and exiting the appropriate work site.

The more precisely you can track the hours of an on the clock employee, the more easily you will be able to anticipate overtime hours, calculate those costs and avoid running afoul of local labor regulations. But most importantly, the better you understand how long it takes workers to complete a given task, the easier it will be for you to accurately project the time and cost of future projects, benefiting both your company and your clients. 

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