Daily Task Lists are powerful productivity improving tools, giving the day much needed focus by
setting out clearly what needs to be done.
However, traditional Daily Task Lists simply don’t work well and quickly become dumping grounds
for numerous ‘low value’ actions that end up being carried over from one day to the next.
When that starts to happen, it’s time to change tack, not by jettisoning the Daily Task List,
but by embracing project-focused task management.
What Do We Mean by 'Projects'?
When most of us think of a project, we tend to think of something big and important like moving
house, putting together a marketing campaign or something even larger, such as organising the
But projects don’t have to be so grandiose. In fact, from a task management point of view, they
can be much, much smaller, so any goal that requires at least two actions to achieve can be
considered a project.
So, a one-off action like making a doctor’s appointment because you have a sore throat isn’t a
project, but making a doctor’s appointment for ‘an annual MOT’ might sit well under a ‘My Health’
By becoming project-focused, you start seeing every task you undertake not as an isolated,
random item on a Daily Task List, but as an important component in helping you complete a bigger
project. This forces you to think more about achieving outcomes, not just about doing things.
And that immediately creates a structure not just for today, but also for tomorrow, and the
weeks, months and even years ahead.
And by seeing actions as part of achieving a larger project, you also focus in more detail about
what needs to be done to make a project happen.
So, how do you set about setting up a project-focused management structure for your day?
The first thing you need to do is create a Project List – quite simply this is a list of the
projects you are working on right now, are going to work on in the near future, or may be thinking
about doing in five years time. Getting all your ideas down in writing is a great way of
uncluttering your mind, an important stepping stone on the road to achieving greater personal
productivity, as well as a great psychological pick-me-up.
A Project List won’t contain any information about the project itself - it’s just a gentle
reminder that a project is alive and kicking, waiting for your attention when you are ready to give
You can create your Project List using a word processor or on a spreadsheet like Excel, though
using To Do List software will give you more flexibility and make it easier for you to link a
Project List with other productivity tools you can create for yourself, such as Daily Task
What Sorts of Projects?
You can make a project for any area of your life - not just work, but also friends, family and
your personal interests, which can include hobbies, health, sport and culture.
Your projects can be as large and diverse as you want, but if some start to feel ‘too big’, just
create smaller sub-projects within them, to make things more manageable.
It’s up to you.
Very quickly you could build up a list of 20, 30, even a hundred or more projects with which you
are, or would like to be involved. If you use To Do List software, you can record them in a single
list, then use a search facility to find what you are looking for.
However, depending on how much you have on, you could divide your projects into categories such
Home and Work, or even by project type, for instance Current Projects
and Future Projects.
As you develop your own personal system, you will find out what works best for you.
When you have your list of projects, it’s time to start filling up each with action steps. Some
of these will be immediately obvious, while others you may have to ‘unearth’, through brainstorming
with colleagues or using creativity tools like mind-mapping.
Adopting project-orientated thinking forces you to break down large tasks into smaller,
easy-to-do, soon-completed, bite-sized next actions that move your project forward faster. When you
have a good collection of actions for each project, you can start to build a sequence for them –
the chain of actions that will take you from where you are right now to where you want and need to
This process will also help you identify knowledge gaps, while these smaller components can also
be more readily delegated to others.
What’s more, by working with bite-size actions like this, it is possible to estimate how long
jobs will take much more accurately. And that’s invaluable when you have to meet deadlines or run
multiple projects at the same time.
Making a Habit of Project Management.
While you won’t need to look at your Project List every day, you should do so regularly - once a
week is fine, ideally as part of your weekly task planning session.
This is enough to keep you in touch with all the projects you are working on right now, while
not letting you forget about others that are still on the horizon. Of course, which you choose to
work on at any particular time is up to you and dependent upon personal priorities.
It’s important to remember that you never actually ‘do’ a project, only the action steps within
it. When you have taken enough action steps, you will finish the project and then you can say it’s
Of course, just as with any other element of time or task management, you have to use your
Project List and other productivity-enhancing tools regularly if they are to become part of your
day and your life, and not be a short-lived initiative that you forget about after a few
With a little application on your part, you could see your productivity soar and your stress