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At night, before going to bed, I write a TO-DO list to remember what I want to do tomorrow. It includes everything I wish to do, like what I wished to do when I was a child!

When I get up in the morning, I'm just too lazy to even look at the list because I know there are lots of things waiting for me! I do whatever I'm in the mood for. If I start to do what's written in the list, I'll fail to do more than one task. I'm not motivated enough to learn how I want or to finish the first one and start the next one. Therefore, I spend another day without being satisfied with what I've done.

Do you have any ideas for how I could increase my personal productivity?

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You are another me :p – Fahad Uddin Dec 7 '11 at 6:34
Are they truly tasks or are they actually projects? If they look like "repaint the flat" kind of tasks, they are too big/confusing for tasks. Using the right terminology would of course get you better answers as all the ones so far seem to assume that items on your list are actually actively doable. – Alexandre Rafalovitch Dec 14 '11 at 18:07

12 Answers 12

I used to face the same problem. Here is how I cope with them:

  1. Use shorter lists with 4-5 tasks. Plan for half-a-day, instead of a full day. Then plan again at mid-day.
  2. Put the list where it can catch your eye, like a sticky-note or cellphone wallpaper.
  3. Use the Pomodoro Technique to work in short bursts.
  4. Treat yourself for completing a list (maybe a bite of chocolate)
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+1 for Pomodoro! – Felipe Sabino Aug 30 '11 at 14:47
About 4. Treat yourself: For me, it's a reward in itself to be able to strike out the item on the list with a pen. Mission accomplished! This makes it even more important to split up large tasks with smaller sub tasks. – awe Sep 8 '11 at 7:49
Just started using the Pomodoro technique and I already feel more organized and productive. – milesmeow Dec 2 '11 at 20:48

First of all, if you are not familiar with GTD, I'd encourage you to read up on the literature. Among other things, the system is built to address the problem you are having with procrastination. To do the things on your list effectively, a big part of it is planning. First, there's prioritization: which tasks are most important to you? Obviously, you do the important things first.

Then, there is the lower level planning of how to carry out larger tasks that should be broken out into projects.

There are 2 reasons you procrastinate:

1. The mere size of the task is daunting

The solution is to treat it as a project and break it up into small tasks which can be finished individually.

2. Uncertainty

People hate uncertainty and avoid it like the plague. To combat this, it's important to identify uncertainty and remove them. If you are unsure of how to start a task, add a subtask of: research on Google on how best to do X. If you are unsure of whether to take option A or option B, add a subtask of: research the pros and cons of A and B, and compare.

Lastly, remember this wise quote "The secret to getting things done: you gotta do shit you don't wanna do." - Charles Lowell

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+1 for "uncertainty". – Lernkurve Feb 12 '12 at 17:21
+1 for last quote – Abid Rahman K May 18 '14 at 7:49

So do you have a procrastination or an energy problem?

Procrastination is when you do other things than the ones you should be doing, and an energy problem is when you just lie or sit there doing pretty much nothing.

Fixing procrastination is very hard but there are a number of books out there that can help. Personally I liked "End Procrastination Now" by W. Knaus. It helped me but I still have a long way to go :-)

If you have an energy problem, try looking at your diet. Personally I got a big energy boost from switching to a Paleo/Primal type diet. Good starting points are Mark's Daily Apple and Perfect Health Diet.

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Good answer. I like how you broke it up into 2 possibilities. Gathering from: "I do whatever I'm in the mood of." I think it sounds more like procrastination. – toby Sep 1 '11 at 2:12
Another great energy problem fix is the natural herb Rhodiola rosea, available from any health food store. It has the additional effect of reducing stress and anxiety. – Jan Steinman Nov 17 '12 at 2:54

Maybe the problem is that you put too much on the list without considering how much time it will take you to do it, which demotivates you. Keep your to do list, but instead of refering to it directly, plan your next day.

  1. Take what you consider the most important task on the list
  2. Ask yourself how much time it is going to take you
  3. Allocate some time of your next day at doing the task (write down the interval on another sheet)
  4. Repeat until you've allocated all the time you're ok to use for those tasks

The next day, only refer to your planning, not to your task list, unless you've finished all the tasks and want to use the remaining time for other tasks. When you start to plan another day, cross all tasks effectively done from your list.

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#3 is VERY helpful. Think about your next day and define (the day before) a specific hour and place to do some of the tasks you want to do. – CaBieberach Nov 21 '11 at 13:06

I suggest looking into the book "The Now Habit" by Neil Fiore.

Here is a quick bullet-point summary of the book so you can see if it might address your problem:

Since you use words like "awful", "fail" and "motivation", I suspect a book about the psychology of procrastination would be better than starting with books about tactics and techniques which will just give you bigger and fancier lists to ignore every morning.

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In addition to what Jonathan said, star what you want to do first. That way you don't have to think about where to start. Once you've done one thing, it's easier to jump to the next step because you have some momentum.

This prevents "I'm overloaded so I won't do anything syndrome."

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You could also have too many tasks in view.

I gradually migrated to a system very much like 1MTD - One minute todo (there's a free short PDF that explains it very well). I still use GTD but with 1MTD in front which may make it like MYN but I haven't read that book.

There are 3 levels of tasks - Critical Now, Opportunity Now and Beyond the Horizon.

  • Critical Now means tasks that you will do today or you will go home late if they're not done (most of the time I don't have a lot of tasks like that)
  • Opportunity Now means a list of no more than 20 tasks you can do in the next 10 days
  • Beyond the Horizon is all the rest

This way, the daily list of tasks you look at is no more than 20ish items. The really really urgent ones are only very few. This pre-filtering makes it a lot easier to pick a task to do, since there's only a few. Less uncertainty results in more chance that you do something you decided to do.

I use folders in OmniFocus to hide the Beyond the Horizon projects, the Critical Now are due tasks and the Opportunity Now are flagged tasks from my current projects. I make sure that due tasks are really things I will do today or I won't go home, otherwise I flag them instead. Then I have a perspective that shows only due and flagged tasks.

So the basic takeaway is, make the list of tasks you look at tiny and make yourself feel really guilty if you're doing things not on your list. That makes it more likely you'll actually do one of those tasks.

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+1 3 level of task will do some a world of good if followed to the optimal. – maz3tt Jul 18 '12 at 12:22

I don't know that writing a to do list before you go to sleep is a good idea specifically because it frontloads your morning.

I use rolling lists where I add stuff to it not in one big go but as and when it occurs to me that something needs to be done. I find it less overwhelming.

Perhaps you should reassess how you make the list rather than try to reassess how to react to it.

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Use todoist.

It's fun. We all know fun == use more often.

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Bletch. It's a cloud app. Any suggestions for good stand-alone Mac OS to do managers? – Jan Steinman Nov 17 '12 at 2:56
You CAN use todoist on multiple platforms, but you are not required to do. – JP Hellemons Jun 6 '13 at 14:46
Please don't post link only answers. Why do you recommend todoist? Please update your answer with some details. – Rory Alsop Dec 7 '13 at 0:19

You don't specify what kind of "what to do" lists you make-for long plan or short plan?
What I do:
I make a list of short-plan actions. These are fleeting things for one day or few days. Later on they become irrelevant. So later on I throw out the list.
Example: going to bank to make the cheque, shop groceries, do aerobics
Then I make other list with long-term goals. I structure them using numbers (1,2,3...) For each such task I use subsections. For example, for 1, I add 1.1,1.2,1.3, and so on.
Random example: 1. Learning how to cook better at home
1.1 Learn from books/online
1.2 Learn from people I know
1.3 Making a list of good recipes
These tasks are for long term.

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I do not believe in doing anything just to fill the time. Things should be done for gaining a benefit or avoiding a loss. The long lists most properly include useless and unimportant items.

Whenever you enter an item to the list, make sure it is a one-day size. Long tasks must be broken down into small one-day tasks.

Everyday scan the list and pickup items with following criteria:

  1. Must be done today or you will miss on a benefit or experience a loss. Work on these ones and finish them.

  2. After finishing number 1 above and you still have time and energy for the day, scan the list again for items that must be done by tomorrow. Work on them.

  3. Keep advancing in your scan from one day to the next until you run out of time or energy.

Anything remains on the list is not important or you don't really have the time or the capacity to do it.

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I also like GTD, but the name can be a bit misleading. A more accurate name would be "A wonderful way to organize all the things you should or would like to do, although organizing them nicely does not make them automatically done ", but I guess that was a bit too long and hard to remember... :)

As for a method that is developed for getting things done, you might try to set yourself up as a one-person scrum team. Divide a white board or a part of the wall in three coloums and label them Not started, Doing and Done. Start by filling out yellow stickers with tasks and do absolutely not put the complete backlog onto the Not started coloum. Only enough that you think you are able to finish in your defined sprint time (e.g. a day or a week).

I have started doing this for some of the things I do, although truth to be told, it works just to an ok-level and sometimes fails a little because of lack of followup (like any other thing I have tried...).

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