What should you do next?

To-do lists are a fundamental time management tool that most of us use in one form or another. It’s an efficient way to ease cognitive load and ensure that the things that need to get done don’t fall through the cracks or get forgotten.

If your to-do list is growing faster than your ability to keep up, or you never quite know what you should really be working on next, then it’s time to apply a little more rigour to how you handle your priorities.

The fundamental key to taming your to-do list is to firstly work out what matters. The things that matter are those things that are key to achieving success in your life, whatever that means for you.

On your to-do list right now, there are the things that you could do, and of those there are the things that you should do. The latter are the things which directly feed into you getting where you want to go in life. Put another way, they are the things which are going to bring you close to achieving whatever dreams and goals you have.

In Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle, he asserts that a minority of your inputs usually lead to a majority of your outputs or results. Similarly, your to-do list likely consists of items which 80% of the time will not lead you to where you want to go, and the other 20% will.

In The One Thing, Garry Keller takes this idea one step further and proposes that there is ultimately just one item on our to-do list that is the most important thing that you should be doing right now.

  • Start with your to-do list
  • Sort it by the items you could do and items you should do
  • now take the should do items and choose the most important one

This single task or priority is the most imperative item you need to work on right now. Once it is completed, then go through the exercise again.

If you take this approach will find that you will be doing a lot less ticking-off of items on your to-do list, which for some might be disconcerting. The fact is, not all things matter equally, so it stands to reason that the things that don’t matter as much are going to remain on your list, or eventually drop off altogether.

What matters is to do the most important thing, and see how your results multiply.

If your ability to focus could do with sharpening, then read how to get stuff done.