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Is scratch-that-itch on your to-do list? It should be.

Entrepreneur Pat Flynn says many people are struggling in the pandemic with managing their to-do list, and they would be helped by some unusual measures.

One recommendation responds to the human nature to want to explore and try new things. They may be seen as diversions from all-important priorities, but he notes it’s good for our brain to explore random musings. So he urges you to designate 10 to 20 per cent of your time each week to scratching that itch.

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“For me, Friday has always been the best ‘play day’ to set my sights on things that have not made their way on to my priority list yet. Especially if you’ve used Monday through Thursday to tackle your priorities, you won’t have to feel guilty utilizing a few hours for deviation from your routine on Friday. In fact, I often use Fridays as a reward for my focus and productivity that week,” he writes in Fast Company.

Another technique he shares is the random-alarm strategy. Set five to six alarms on your phone to go off at random times during the workday. Each time the alarm sounds, consider what you are doing and how you are feeling. Are you focusing on what you should be doing or gone astray into social media? Have you been working for longer than you should without a break?

“If you find that nine times out of 10 you’re caught in the middle of something unproductive or unimportant when the alarm goes off, that could be a sign you’re not doing enough to manage your distractions. Distractions can be a very slippery slope if you don’t keep them in check, so use these alarms as both productivity and mindfulness tools,” he says.

Consultant Justin Hale says everything on our to-do list is either attracting or repelling us. Vagueness or uncertainty may be the deterrent, so you need to be able to understand exactly what is involved in tackling the item. That argues for being very specific about the next action – the next physical, visible activity you need to take to progress.

He also says it’s critical to organize your tasks so that you can start doing the item immediately rather than be forced to spend time analyzing. Typically we organize to-dos by topic or project, but that leads to problems related to context and resources. If you jump into a cab, you need to go through all those items to find the phone calls that are the likeliest activity now given your context and resources at hand. So he recommends organizing your to-dos according to the location you need to be in or the resources and people you need to be connected to in order to accomplish the action. “A few of my own lists that fit this structure are @Home, @Errands, @Calls, @Christina (my wife), @Work Computer. Other helpful lists might be things like @Grocery store, @Offline, @Mushybrain (for tasks that require very little mental energy and can be tackled easily at the end of the day),” he writes on the Vital Smarts blog.

Try to avoid feeling guilty about the items that weren’t completed in the day’s to-do march, advises Heidi Grant, the director of research and development for Americas Learning at EY. She told Harvard Business Review for a week or two you should watch how many items you complete to allow you to become more adept at creating the daily list and not having too many linger undone. Also, consider the difference between what you are crossing off your list and what remains. Is the problem that you don’t know where to start, or the task level is too high, or you are failing to chip away at them intermittently during the day?

Work life revolves around our to-do list, so it pays to always be refining.

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Quick hits

  • “Catch me up.” That may seem an awkward phrase, but conversational-skills trainer Debra Fine says it’s better than “How are you?” to initiate meaningful connection. Another tip: Make a calendar appointment to reach out to two people you work with each day, just to check-in during this remote era.
  • To simplify before you understand the details is ignorance, argues author James Clear. But to simplify after you understand the details is genius.
  • Too many job candidates forget to say these critical words in an interview, according to writer Tiffany Lashai Curtis: “I want this job.”
  • If you’re not having second thoughts about a decision, that may be because you’re not thinking it through sufficiently, suggests entrepreneur Seth Godin. Misgivings are a sign that you’re not closed-minded but carefully considering the problem at hand.
  • If you press CTRL+L while in your browser the cursor will automatically jump to the address bar, ready for you to type a command, tech writer Whitson Gordon advises.

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