By Lauren Beam (’07)

One of the first things I learned early on as a young professional was to use to-do lists to stay on top of my work. At the start of each week, I would sit at my desk and begin making the long, arduous list of projects and assignments that had to get done. Then, as the week progressed, I found great joy in checking off each item, one by one. However, as I have gained more experience in the world of to-do list making, I have learned that simply having a list does not equate to productivity and time well spent on the job. Below are a few lessons I have learned along the way for tackling to-do lists in a way that allows you to manage your workflow in an efficient and thoughtful manner.


While a to-do list can be extremely helpful in determining what needs to get done, don’t fall into the trap of working your way down the list merely for the sake of checking the boxes next to each item. Instead, be intentional. Determine which to-do list items are of the utmost importance at the start of your day and begin to tackle those first. Do certain projects or tasks have deadlines attached? Is someone counting on you to have completed something by the end of the day? Focus on those items first. Prioritizing the most important tasks or projects will also help you say “no” (as you’re able) to the new requests that pop up throughout your work day.

Calendar Your Tasks.

How many times have you written down a to-do list item only to, well, not actually do it? For most of us, we use the excuse that we just didn’t have the time available. A productivity game-changer in my work life has been calendaring work tasks, which is simply scheduling blocks of time on my calendar to accomplish specific things written on my to-do list. For example, I will list on my calendar from 9:00-10:00am to “create marketing materials for upcoming program.” This reminds me of how I will be spending my work time and it alerts colleagues with access to my calendar that I am occupied during that hour. Similar to scheduling meetings, schedule time with and for yourself to knock out your latest project. Blocking off specific times throughout your day provides you with clear, time-constrained boundaries to boost your productivity.

Stop Multitasking.

It’s not unusual to have multiple electronic devices out on your desk throughout the work day. As a result, many of us try to do several things at the same time such as writing an email, listening to music or a podcast, and simultaneously reading and responding to incoming messages. However, studies have shown that our brains are not actually wired to multitask, and that doing multiple things at once can actually diminish our ability to function effectively. Focusing on one task at a time will increase your productivity and allow you to tackle that to-do list more efficiently. So minimize distractions – put your phone on silent or in airplane mode; disconnect your laptop from Internet while working on off-line tasks; download a button or app to pause Inbox emails; and find a quiet place to work.

Reward Yourself.

Too often we complete a project, check it off our list, and move on to the next one. Instead, take time to reward yourself for the job you have completed. Go on a walk, grab coffee with a colleague, read an interesting article or book, scroll mindlessly through your social media feeds (hey, you deserve it after disconnecting for the past hour or two!), or simply step away from technology for a few moments of quiet and solitude. Celebrate your accomplishments no matter how big or small!

Looking for more tips on how to be productive? Check out these articles from The Muse.