How I Doubled My Productivity Overnight


It would be hard to find a person who has never heard about a to-do list, right? Yet I bet that many of you do not use it, or do not use it effectively.

I was on the same boat until some months ago. I knew that every day I was supposed to list the tasks that needed to be done, but most of the time I would just list those tasks mentally and get on with the work. Needless to say that by lunch I would have already forgotten what I was supposed to do….

I also tried to use digital solutions, including a desktop application that manages my to-do list and the “Tasks” feature inside Gmail. They worked for a couple of days, but that was it.


Then one day I thought to myself: “Let’s get old school and start doing a to-do list with pen and paper.” And suddenly and I was getting more things done than ever before.

These days I can’t work unless I have my notebook and a pen on my desk. Here is how I structure the process:

  1. At the end of every working day I will sit down and list the tasks that need to be performed on the next day.
  2. I list them in descending order of importance (so priorities go on top).
  3. I also list stuff that I am NOT supposed to do (e.g., check my email more than twice a day or visit YouTube).
  4. As I move along the day I just cross the completed tasks and move on to the next ones.
  5. If I fail to complete a certain task I move it to next day’s list, on top.

This is probably the best single thing I have done to improve my productivity. If you are not doing it, give it a shot.

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55 Responses to “How I Doubled My Productivity Overnight”

  • Jeff Sabo

    Daniel, you are right on with your approach! Sometimes going “old-school” can be one of the best ways to improve productivity. Taking time to use an older approach can freshen things up a bit and surprise you as to how well it works. I sometimes did this with study techniques in college and found that a new way to study helped me do better on my exams!

  • Monevator

    The thing that’s made the biggest difference to my productivity in recent times is not to try to do too much.

    Before I’d have a list of things and I’d try to figure out what was important.

    Now I try to do one big, killer thing a day, and plan my calendar accordingly.

    Really works!

  • Alvaris Falcon

    Strongly agreed, especially when there are tons of projects running on, and the deadline is near! 😀

  • IM Headlines

    Almost every successful marketer uses a to do list. In the past, I used to keep everything in my mind. No wonder why I used to have a lot of headaches.

    Nowadays I keep a notebook and I write down all of my tasks on it. And yes, I have increased my productivity aswell. 😉

  • diabetes man

    yech….you are very love your job, enjoy all your activity

  • Jeff Bode

    There are tons of things you can do to become more productive, I’ve found that you should have 4 task to complete each day and use an accountability partner to email to let them know you completed your task each night!

  • Ricardo Bueno

    Totally with you on this one! Let’s just say I’ve grown to love legal pads (I buy a whole stack of ’em every time I go to Staples). It’s the best way to stay on top of that to do list (at least for me it is).

  • cmdweb

    I couldn’t agree more. To-do lists only really work when they’re hand written. I use a pen, paper and a highlighter pen to cross out the ones I’ve finished. I get a sense of some progress when I see the page filling up with colour. It might be just a psychological boost, but every bit helps.
    I once worked with a colleague who started his list every day with:
    1. Make a list.

    As soon as he had finished his list (or the first pass at least), he could score No.1 off. Instant progress!!

  • Norene

    I also use a paper and pencil list, but with a twist. I assign points to each task I need to do and each day I try to accumulate more points than the previous day. So, for instance, I am more likely to complete three 10 point tasks, than three 5 point tasks. It is highly motivating and it also helps to ensure that the most important tasks get done first, even if they are not the most ‘fun’ on the list. -Norene

  • Extrema

    Deveria ter o tradutor para o Portugues (pt-Brasil).
    Mesmo assim fica meus PARABENS para o site.

  • Igor Kheifets-IgorHelpsYouSucceed

    Simple, yet very effective productivity tip. I’ve been using to do lists for over a year now, never let me done. Most of the time I complete everything on the list


  • Kim

    Pretty simple, yet helpful. I tried using a desktop app as well for my to-do list. Didn’t work. Maybe it’s better if I do it the conventional way as well. 🙂

  • Boerne Search

    Yes, this is something I have done for years. I keep everything in one notebook for each year. I have all my notes, to do’s and goals listed in them. Sometimes I go back just to see what I was thinking or doing a year or two back. I catch myself laughing and some of the ideas i had. But this is a very good way of keeping things simple yet effective.


  • Supermarket Soap

    It’s funny, I use paper to do lists all the time, and I get far more done on the projects where I use the paper to do lists rather than the digital to do lists.

  • Capt Elan

    Recently I have come upon one online tool, done as a to-do list, that is freely available and very much resembles the paper to-do lists. It even works in the same way.

    It has extremely simplified design and looks as though it cannot be simpler. The tool is available at and the community behind it can be reached at

    Do you know any other to-do lists that are this elegant and yet powerful?

  • Wayne Key

    The really tough thing about to-do lists and calendars is remembering to use the darn things.

    A few years ago I started using the Franklin-Covey planners and loved them. The trainer who introduced them to us during a week long management training program forced us to have the planner within arms reach ANY time we were not in our rooms. There was a $10 fine PER occurance for not having the planner handy and for not having the plan/to-do list updated… lol…

    It was a painful but pretty fast way to learn the habit.

  • Dave Doolin

    I love pencil and paper!

    I use a mixture of methods for maximum effectiveness.

  • Jennifer Furrier

    It’s absolutely true, that keeping a to do list, in one place, (instead of the back of napkins and five legal pads), is one of the best things to increase productivity. Plus, it’s easier to focus when there aren’t all kinds of post-its and small pieces of paper getting lost on the disorganized desktop.
    Plus, it makes it easier to sleep, when I know that my list for the next day, already has listed, everything I need to get done.

  • Surender Sharma

    This is common factor in every human being to wash out the brain soon.I can say it is disease(Funny) but your experience shows that the common habit can beat by using some methods and one of them is your mentioned method that is TO DO List.
    Do do list works like your personal secretory which handle your all the business tasks and meeting scheduling.
    I am really impressed with your post.I am going to follow your all the steps for managing my day and night blogging.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Mevil, I try to.

  • Melvin mean you were really able to resist doing time-wasters such as watching on youtube?

  • Liane YoungBlogger

    Doubling productivity means logging off from Facebook In my own opinion. lol

  • Grateful Al

    One of my favorite tools is the Mozilla plugin “Really Simple Sticky”.

    I have found in my research for productivity tools, including Mind Maps and other GTD tools, many seem so all-inclusive they become a distraction in their own right. I ended up spending a fair amount of time learning the tools; then more research to apply them the most efficiently. All-in-all, several became time-drains in themselves. I now use Linux and a neat package in KDE called ‘Basket Note Pad’.

    For me, the hierarchical tree format works the best and management is a breeze as its always at my fingertips. I just did not like the way mind maps would end up covering several screens and simple navigation became an issue. I understand it is also based on one’s perception of learning and thinking that will determine their preference; an interesting study of it’s own.

  • Stephanie

    I definitely use a pen-and-paper “to-do” list. In fact, I carry my notepad around with me around all day long. It just works better for me than the digital alternatives that are currently available.

  • Lee Ka Hoong

    Seems that creating to-do list using old school method is working, at least there is no “Time Killer” when no internet in front of you. I’ve never done it before. Daniel, is this effective for people who is part time blogger? In fact, I have only about 3-5 hours or less online daily, I used to write a post, reply comment, reading other blogs, read email and etc. So I’m curious whether writing a to-do list works in my situation too.

    Anyway, I’m going to give it a try to see whether I can increase my productivity. 🙂


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