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The gist: a popular productivity tip is to only put your most important tasks on your to-do list. Here’s why that doesn’t work for me, and why it’s so important to personalize productivity for yourself.

Any productivity enthusiast knows that there’s a lot of bad advice out there.

Not because anyone’s trying to dupe you, or because the person is flat-out wrong.

Just because everyone has a unique working style. Unique enough that you should always take productivity with a grain of salt.

And there is nothing more important to your productivity than knowing yourself. How you work, what motivates you, what distracts you, and other strengths and weaknesses.

Yet, there are also tips that are widely considered “too legit to quit.” (Oh hey, MC Hammer!)

For example, breaking down big projects into smaller tasks.

That also happens to be one of my favorite tips, and it’s probably singlehandedly helped my own productivity more than anything else I’ve tried.

Breaking Down Your Tasks

I think it’s extremely important that a to-do list consists of tasks. Specific, actionable things to do. Keeping track of your goals and projects is important, of course, but not on your daily to-do list.

That’s the difference between a task manager vs. a project manager.

For example, I talk about the setup of my Erin Condren life planner in this post. I put my to-do list for the day in the daily boxes.

Then in the sidebar (or in the weekend slots, since I don’t really use those), I list out three projects that need to be finished that week. Throughout the daily to-do lists, you’d find smaller tasks that help me accomplish the larger projects.

“Most Important Tasks” Lists Lack Detail

I tried planning my schedule with “MIT” to-do lists for a while. If you write them like you’re “supposed” to, there are only three items on the list. So my list for the day would need to look something like:

  1. Blog post for Friday
  2. March external newsletter
  3. Checklist drip campaign

There are just so many things I dislike about this list.

First of all, it’s so vague.

What needs to be done for the blog posts? And the newsletter?

Secondly, I would not be able to complete a blog post, newsletter, and drip campaign start to finish in one day.

They would take a few hours each.

There are other things I need to do daily, like checking email, taking a look at different metrics in the platforms we use, and editing.

Realistically, I can’t devote my whole day to the three most important tasks, and you might not be able to either.

How I “To-Do” Instead

My to-do list started out with 27 items today. It’s long, I know. But it’s digital, so it’s easily sortable and I can scroll and rearrange things to my heart’s desire.

But instead of vague blobby tasks like the ones listed above, they’re specific things like:

  • Outline blog post about _________
  • Complete first round edits for the ________ blog post
  • Collect company news for external newsletter
  • Select blog posts for external newsletter
  • Reply to Eli’s email about audio headsets
  • Finalize first three emails in drip campaign

No single item should take very long. I try to keep it at 30 minutes.

At first, it frustrated me. All these productivity experts said the MIT method was great! Why couldn’t it work for me? Why didn’t it make me more productive?

After awhile, after performing other “experiments” to varying levels of success, I let it go. Not every tip works for every person. I know this, in my brain. But that didn’t make it less frustrating at first.

This is why working brighter is about personalizing productivity.

Are there any productivity “tips” that didn’t work for you?