ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Yes, Lists Are Still the Best Productivity Tool — if They're Done Correctly

Updated on December 16, 2016

Multitasking is so common that it's often difficult to keep track of the many events, tasks, and errands on our plates. To-do lists and calendars have always served as functional organizational tools, yet most do little to inspire productivity.

One new craze may revolutionize how people keep track of their lives: the Bullet Journal. The concept behind the notebook-turned-company created by digital designer Ryder Carroll is an amalgam of a diary, to-do list, calendar, and wish list meant to make people more productive and focused.

More traditional to-do lists can be effective, too. What matters most is being realistic and mindful about the tasks listed.

Bullet Journals Amp Up Productivity

With the Bullet Journal, Carroll created a journaling process that combines icons, formatting, and organizational rules. The strategy follows a specific format and flow, which may take time to grasp. For instance, arrows, X's, and bullets signify specific actions next to certain list items, making it easy for users to glance at the page and remember tasks.

Despite its specific methodology, Bullet Journaling is flexible enough that you can make it work for you. Some include sketches and pictures, and others use it like a scrapbook and paste in mementos.

Fans of the Bullet Journal, including the 4 million people who have watched Carroll's how-to videos on YouTube and the company's website, say it helps boost productivity and reduce stress by freeing up mental space and simplifying life. And some appreciate the return to an analog system after being overwhelmed by digital productivity tools.

Why Your Task List May Be a Productivity Killer

While many people are turning to the Bullet Journal as a new and improved way to keep track of tasks and goals, any method of creating a to-do list will do. It's what's on the list that matters.

Setting unrealistic expectations is the ultimate motivation killer. An ideal list takes thought and effort to write. It may be tempting to jot down every single task you wish to accomplish in a workday, but looking at an unfinished list at the end of the day feels overwhelming and deflating.

Be realistic when crafting lists. If you have multiple events or meetings one day, it may be difficult to accomplish a litany of desk tasks. This is something management should always keep in mind.

You may want employees to have high aspirations of accomplishing as much as they can each day, but setting goals that are too ambitious can decrease productivity and damage employee morale. People tend to be more motivated by incremental accomplishments.

Focus on Achievable Goals

To-do lists full of realistic goals that can actually be achieved offer emotional and psychological benefits — most importantly, motivation and productivity.

For years, I have completed daily lists with my goals, and I expect each employee who directly reports to me to do the same. Here are three methods for ensuring to-do lists benefit your team:

1. Create goals to guide your employees' day.

Accomplishing goals provides people the sense that they are in control of their daily lives. It's easier to feel more confident knowing which tasks you have to tackle each day.

Create goals that are SMART. This acronym can take on many different meanings as it applies to an individual's specific goals. For example, S may mean "specific" or "significant." M could mean "measurable," "meaningful," or "motivational." A could mean "attainable," "acceptable," or "action-oriented." R might stand for "realistic," "relevant," or "results-oriented." And T may refer to "time-based," "trackable," or "tangible."

Our goal-setting system sets a clear end to the workday, which instills a sense of control. While it isn't always possible to completely shut down at 5 p.m., I don't want anyone to burn out.

2. Create tomorrow's to-do list today.

Checking items off a to-do list creates an intrinsic sense of satisfaction. Research shows that even when people experience small feats of success, their brains release dopamine, which is tied to pleasure, learning, and motivational receptors. This triggers people to repeat the actions that made them feel so great.

I require my team to complete to-do lists at the end of the day with goals for the following day. This is a productive and psychologically rewarding task. I ask them to write a W on their calendars for the days they completed or nearly completed their lists.

This may sound like a small thing, but so much of the work can get mundane or even overwhelming. Tasks can seem endless, so it's essential to create a way to declare victory over it.

Burnout happens when people are unable to achieve goals every day. After several days in a row of not meeting (or even coming close to meeting) goals, it's time to make some adjustments to the goal-setting process.

3. Start with the hardest task first.

When people are productive, they feel a sense of ownership, and that leads to happiness. Being productive allows people to concentrate on other aspects of their lives, like health, relationships, and creativity. It can also make them more financially successful.

I’m a big believer in doing the hardest thing on your list first. When you have a long list of tasks, it's common to avoid the most difficult or time-consuming tasks at first. But those are usually the ones that matter most, and tackling them head-on leads to better overall productivity.

When my team members walk into the office at 8 a.m., their to-do lists for the day are already done. This forces them to focus and immediately start working on what needs to be accomplished.

To keep up productivity, I require team members to write weekly reports about the goals they set and what they accomplished. I read them all on Sunday night and make a list of questions or problems I have to address on Monday.

A common mistake in list-making is having goals that are too large or too vague cluttering up the list. It's OK to have one big goal, such as increasing profits, but it needs to be broken down into measurable, actionable items.

Whether you choose to embrace the Bullet Journal craze, use a productivity app, or stick with an old-fashioned to-do list, make sure the items on your list are realistic and attainable. You'll quickly see your team's productivity and motivation levels rise.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)