No matter how old I get, there is something about the back to school season that makes me want to sharpen pencils, get a new backpack, I mean briefcase and ramp up my productivity again after the summer slow-down.[sws_picture_frame1 src=”http://clearconceptinc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/iStock_000004322052XSmall1.jpg” title=”” alt=”” align=”sws_frame_right” lightbox=”” album=”album” video=””] [/sws_picture_frame1]

If you’re also keen to put your best foot forward, I suggest starting with the most important productivity principle. I’m talking about a humble and often under-estimated tool. And I’m also talking about something that is a game-changer when it comes to productivity: the simple To Do List.

Your To Do List, much like the foundation of your house, needs to be rock solid for three crucial reasons. All other productivity principles build upon this critical tool. Haphazard, incomplete To Do Lists just don’t make the grade.

But sadly, the all-mighty the To Do List tends to get a bad rap. It can feel like make-work homework. We know it’s good for us, but we begrudge having to dedicate any of our precious time to it. People often tell me that “To Do Lists don’t work”. Not so. To Do Lists don’t fail. Bad To Do Lists fail.

If we knew more about how we mess up the To Do List, we’d be more likely to get it right. Here are some things that give To Do Lists a failing grade:

1.       Too many systems: lists, calendar reminders, sticky notes, piles of paper, writing on your hand and strings on your finger. The more places we have to look, the greater the likelihood of missing key information. 

2.       Incomplete: Some tasks get captured and others don’t. We like to think that our memory is infallible, but the truth is that we forget things. A lot of things. Things that don’t get written down get forgotten.

3.       Outdated: A To Do List can become antiquated overnight. Once it is outdated, it no longer works. A To Do List is useless if it is not maintained.

4.       Too Complicated: There are some great To Do List tools and apps available. But many of these have far more bells and whistles than necessary. And when things get complicated, we tend not stick to them. A To Do List really only needs to focus on the basics: the task and the deadline.

5.       Too Overwhelming: A never-ending To Do List can be as overwhelming as exam week. We end up spreading ourselves too thin and halting any significant progress. The truth is that we can’t do everything and the last thing we want is to feel defeated.

When these things go wrong, a To Do List becomes more of a burden than an asset. But if we can avoid these trouble spots, we are well on our way to having an A+ To Do List.

Many of you can be pretty passionate about your To Do List.  What works for you? For those non-list makers out there, why doesn’t it work?  Since we’re all in this quest for great productivity together, I’d love to hear from you!