1. Maintain One Master List
Ken Zeigler, a productivity and time management expert who has conducted over 16 years of research in the field, suggests a "Master List": a portable pad of paper (he finds the old-school medium most effective for retention) where you keep all to-do items (whether financial, personal or professional) for an entire week. When you have a thought, write it down immediately, then delete it from your mind. “Allow your mind to be a strategic thinker," he says, "not a memory chip.”
2. Batch Your Tasks
The next step in Zeigler's process is to review your Master List daily and transfer action items onto a Daily List, which should be in electronic form to make it easily portable and accessible from multiple devices. This list should be "batched," or separated into groups of similar tasks (like the three separate emails you must answer in the next hour or the five errands you need to run in town). Zeigler explains that batching tasks improves productivity. “By working on all of the similar tasks, it will prevent your jumping from task to task and help you focus on one type at a time,” he says.
3. Work Toward Larger Goals
Peter Bregman, author of "18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get The Right Things Done," has created his own method for a list that tackles not just the minutiae of daily life but your larger goals. It's called the "18 Minutes To-Do List." To get started, you identify no more than five goals for the year—both personal and professional—and generate your daily to-dos keeping those annual goals in mind. Of course, there is space for the unavoidable minutiae, which is called “the other 5%,” because according to Bregman, you shouldn't be spending more than 5% of your time on these tasks.
4. Set an Expiration Date for Each To-Do
When setting yourself up for success, "next week" isn't an effective time limit. “There's a tremendous amount of research that points to the fact that if you decide when and where you're going to do something, you'll do it,” says Bregman. If items stay on your list for more than three days, Bregman gives you three options: Do it right away, put it on your calendar for a specific time in the future (place the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day), or delete it.