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How to reduce your to-do-list in under 5 minutes

Reading Time: 2.5 minutes

The ultimate guide to effective time-management

If you are serious about your leadership success, you must be obsessed about efficiency. Using the same tools you used a decade ago just doesn’t cut it any more in this fast-paced environment. Time management must be regarded as equally important to marketing, sales and production, because it is equally important. Time is money, after all!

The average work day is hardly ever long enough to get everything done. However, productivity can be greatly improved by adopting good time-management habits. And being efficient won’t just make you accomplish more, it will also leave you more satisfied with the knowledge that you had a full and productive work day.


The Benjamin Franklin quote that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is as true today as it was back then. Here are the top cures to make you more productive so you can reduce your to-do-list in under 5 minutes:

1. Plan the day and implement structure.

When you are busy, it is tempting to dive right into your work when you start your day. However, the key to saving time is setting structure in place. Decide when to check your emails and highlighting the most important ones to respond to, when to take/place phone calls, block out time for planning and work, and decide beforehand when you will go home.

2. Pick a maximum of 5 tasks to be accomplished today.

Keep your to-do-list simple, so you don’t get disheartened by what you probably won’t have time for. Writing and re-writing to-do-lists can be like riding a rocking horse: keeping you busy while not making any progress.

3. Prioritise, and complete your most important task first.

Tools like the management matrix from Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” can assist you to structure tasks into 1) Urgent & Important, 2) Important, not urgent, 3) Urgent, not important, and 4) Not important, not urgent.

“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
~ E. M. Gray

4. Overcome perfectionism and rush the unimportant.

You must be realistic that in today’s lightning speed world, you can’t do it all. You can’t even begin to do it all. So, pick what is not vital, rush it and leave more time for the important.


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5. Stop multitasking, it’s a myth.

Most of us mortals are simply less effective when attempting to do multiple things simultaneously. Concentrate on what you are doing - the brain isn’t wired to do two tasks well at once.

6. Keep your work space (and document/email filing) clean and orderly.

Being able to use your desk and computer for what it was designed to do will eliminate distraction and allow you to concentrate on the tasks and duties of the day.

7. Turn off pop-up notifications.

Minimise getting distracted by email notifications, SMS pings, or appointment reminders (on second thought: maybe keep those…). If you can at all, turn your phone to silent mode, and only check it once every hour or whenever you decided you would when planning your day.

8. Stand up for phone calls.

Standing up for every phone call you make or receive helps you speeding up those conversations and finishing them quicker. The health benefit is a bonus.

9. Create shortcuts for documents you frequently use.

But don’t forget to update/delete them as required. Keep it de-cluttered and accurate.

10. Use templates and defaults for more than just presentations.

You can create templates for email wording, email reply wording, checklists for regular processes, default settings for new documents or meeting requests, default fonts etc. etc.

11. Use Email distribution lists.

If you regularly email to the same group of people, distribution lists can save you a lot of time, and help you avoid forgetting to include people.

12. Get a grip on the email flood.

Take a critical look at the emails you get every day. Which ones do you delete right away or simply file into a folder as soon as you get them? Set up rules (check Google or ask for help if you don’t know how). Unsubscribe to as many as possible – you can always re-subscribe if you really miss the value you got from them.

13. Delegate what you can, and say NO to more tasks.

We sometimes find it difficult to let go, but if you want to get things done, you need to delegate everything (except your greatest strengths), and collaborate with others where possible.

14. Set a time limit, and race against the clock.

Don’t just have an open amount of time to get a task done. Always challenge yourself to get it completed in a certain time period – amazingly, it will be done a lot faster.

15. Take regular breaks to refocus.

You might think they are counter-productive, but breaks give you the opportunity to recharge your energy, as well as to attend to your personal matters like making a necessary phone call or check your social media.


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