When I’m invited to give a commencement speech and pushed to give the graduating class one piece of advice for the future, it won’t be to wear sunscreen: it will be to make sure that every night, they make a to-do list for the following day. There’s no other way you can invest just two minutes and give yourself such a monumental productivity boost for the following 24 hours.
(Although by that point they’ll probably have walked out in protest after I quoted some James Altucher at them.)
Making a to-do list is particularly critical for people like us, who are striving to do something different and often difficult: just blindly doing whatever seems like a good idea at the time is unlikely to get us the result we want.
If you’re working for yourself and have nobody to make sure you show up on time or do what most needs to be done, writing a to-do list means you’ll wake up every day with a sense of purpose. Rather than scanning through Facebook in bed, taking a walk, replying to some emails then realising it’s lunchtime and you’ve not achieved anything yet, you’ll be more likely to get straight down to work (after your first hour, of course).
If you want to quit working for someone else and build something of your own, writing a to-do list in advance is a great way to make sure that you take at least one small action every day that gets you closer to your goal – allowing you to set your own priorities first, before everyone else piles in and adds their own tasks to your plate.
Do you already write a to-do list in advance? Then you’re ready for expert mode: put your most daunting, unpleasant, difficult task at the top of that list and spend half an hour working on it before you allow yourself to do anything else (including answering emails).
And if you’re already addicted to your to-do list and your efforts to work productively take up all your time to the exclusion of everything else, let the poison be the cure: just start creating to-dos for “read a book” and “watch an episode of 30 Rock”.
You’ll probably have read variations of this advice already – but if you haven’t taken it yet, make this the time you give it a try and you’ll be amazed by the difference it makes. And if you really feel like you’ve not learnt anything new from this post, here’s the second-best way you can invest two minutes to become more productive.