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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 25: Make Your To-Do List Doable

Level Easy

Platform All

Cost Free

There’s no better feeling than checking something off your to-do list. Done! Finished! Mission accomplished! Yet it’s so easy to let a whole day or week go by without knocking one task off your list. How does that happen? Well, your to-do list can be a tool that guides you through your work, or it can be a big fat pillar of undone time bombs taunting you and your unproductive inadequacy. It all depends on how you write it.

Think of your to-do list as an instruction set your Boss self gives your Assistant self. Like a good computer program, if the instructions are clear, specific, and easily carried out, you’re golden. If not, you’ll get undesirable results, such as fear, procrastination, and self-loathing. Read on for a closer look at how to write a to-do list that makes getting your stuff done dead-simple.

You Are the Boss of You

At any point during the workday, you are in one of two modes: thinking mode (that’s you with the Boss hat on) and action mode (that’s you with the Personal Assistant hat on). When a project or task comes up, the steps you need to take start to form in your mind. Now you’re in thinking/Boss mode — the guy/gal who gives the orders. Your to-do list is a collection of those orders, which your Assistant personality will later pick up and do.

When you’re wearing your Boss hat, it’s up to you to write down the instructions in such a way that your Assistant self can just do them without having ...

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