How to Organize Your To-Dos Before the New Year

It's easy to slack off in December, particularly if you're one of those poor souls who used up their PTO by March. When everyone is out of the office and the breakroom is filled with leftover sugar cookies, it's tempting to shop holiday sales and rewatch Netflix Christmas movies on your phone. Before you give into temptation, however, consider the best holiday gift you could give yourself: an organized to-do list for the new year. Try these tips to getting a running start in 2020.

to do

Clean up your workspace

The last week of the year is the ideal time to catch up on your filing and take advantage of the most useful filing cabinet of all—the recycling bin. Cast a critical eye on your workspace and any clutter that's accumulated over the course of the year. Tchotchkes from trade shows? Donate or toss. A birthday card from your team? You'll get a new one soon. Be ruthless. Outer order leads to inner calm.

Once you've addressed your physical workplace, it's time to tackle the digital world. Is your desktop cluttered with screenshots and old email attachments? Delete them—and make a plan to contain this digital debris more effectively in the future. (One idea: Set a recurring task reminder to clean up your desktop once a month. You could create a folder on your computer for saving these types of temporary files, making it easier to keep them contained and dispose of them.)

Your email inbox also needs attention. Whether you're a dedicated email filer or like to rely on the search function, set a threshold for what types of emails you'll save. An all-staff about the stinky refrigerator won't be useful in a week, let alone next year.

Do a brain dump

Once your workspace is clear, it's time to clear your mind. Allow yourself some time to "brain dump": Write down every to-do rattling around your brain, no matter how big or small. Don't worry about putting big items next to small or routine tasks; you'll categorize them later. Just get all to-dos out of your brain and onto a sheet of paper.

Be clear about what a to-do list item really is: Project, goal, or task

Once your brain dump is complete, go through your list, and properly label each item. Is it a goal, a project, or a task? In other words, is it something you want to achieve, or is it a component of the achievement? For instance, if your goal is to increase your company's search engine ranking, you might need to complete a project, such as launching a new website or rewriting the content of your current site. Tasks related to these projects could include hiring a web developer or determining relevant keywords for your industry.

Once you've categorized your to-dos, you'll see how they fit together and work together, making the whole process seem less overwhelming.

Divide your to-do list into quadrants

Ideally, your goals and projects should be kept on separate lists, with your daily to-do list comprising the tasks needed to complete those goals and projects. Once you've streamlined your list, divide your tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important, urgent but not important, important but not urgent, and neither urgent nor important. Each day, you'll want to tackle the urgent and important tasks first, then move on to urgent/not important and important/not urgent.

The trick is to keep the urgent/not important from crowding out important/not urgent. Important/not urgent tasks (such as goal-setting and organizing your to-do list) have a way of making the urgent/important and urgent/not important tasks easier in the long run. For example, if you manage your company's social media, it's urgent and important to post multiple times a week. Establishing a social media content calendar is an important task that's not urgent—you can keep doing ad hoc posts—but in the long run, investing time in a content calendar will make your job much easier.

Once you've streamlined your to-do list, you should a clearer vision of where you're headed at work. Set a New Year's resolution to spend time at the beginning and end of each week maintaining your to-do list, and you'll see your productivity soar in 2020.

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