How to Conquer Your To-Do List

A LinkedIn study shows that only 11 percent of respondents accomplish the tasks on their to-do lists. Here are five tips for making and adhering to your tasks.

If you have a to-do list a mile long with items that never get accomplished, you're not alone: According to a new LinkedIn survey, only 11 percent of respondents across the globe complete all of the tasks they plan to do. The reason for the low number: unplanned events like phone calls, emails and meetings that derail their priorities.

But that doesn't mean you should ditch your list, says LinkedIn Connection Director Nicole Williams. "Professionals are so busy and have so much on their plate," she says. "To-do lists help you stay organized and on-task, as long as you know how you can best utilize them."

Here's a look at some of the survey results, along with five tips for making your to-do list work for you.

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1. Log Your Day

"Most of us need a little down time over the course of the day to take a breath and stretch our legs, but its worth finding out if youre spending an inordinate amount of time on unproductive tasks," Williams says. "One of my favorite ways of shocking people is to ask them for one week to make a record of all the time they spend on on-work essentials."

This puts your to-do list in perspective, Williams says. "You can have nonproductive time in your schedule each day, but just be sure to add it to the list. It will quickly become clear why you didn't get to that report."

2. More Is Better

When you create your to-do list, put anything and everything on it, even if it's something menial, Williams recommends. That way, there's more satisfaction in crossing things off.

"With 26 percent of the professionals stating that they are easily distracted, having a regular list of tasks that need to get done each day will help you not only keep you focused, but also ensure you're able to respond to inevitable diversions of your attention.

Such daily tasks might include catching up on industry news, for example.

[Want more LinkedIn tips, tricks and analysis? Check out CIO.com's LinkedIn Bible.]

3. Break Down Daunting Tasks

"If your to-do list is too high-level, you won't have the satisfaction of crossing anything off," Williams says. To counteract this, break down big, daunting tasks.

"Say you have a big proposal due. Instead of writing, 'Complete proposal,' break it down to doing research one day, competitive analysis another day. Be specific about the detailed pieces," William says.

4. Conquer the Dregs

Dregs are tasks you find on your to-do list day after day. Maybe they're daunting (see above) or maybe they're nonessential or things that you just don't want to do. Williams recommends writing down your dreg list and dividing it into three categories: a "hard" pile, a "nonessential pile and a "don't want to do pile.

For the "hard" pile, ask for help or insight. These problems are most often solved by group-think or by someone who's endured the same hard problem and knows how to solve it, Williams says. Have a trusted colleague review the "nonessential" pile, and if the task is really nonessential, take it off. Lastly, Williams recommends delegating items in the "don't want to do" pile. "Whether it ends up being a willing intern or a new vendor, your to-do list just got shorter," she says.

5. Reprioritize Your List Throughout the Day

When something inevitably happens and deters you from your to-do list, take some time and refocus your list. "You need a sense of focus and priority, so if your boss comes by your office and asks you to look something up, take a look at your list and see where it fits in," Williams says.

A final tip: At the end of the day, add items to your list that weren't there but which you accomplished, just so you can cross them off. "This gives you a sense of productivity," Williams says.

Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and enterprise collaboration for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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