I use a simple, free method to organize and prioritize my tasks each day, which enables me to efficiently slice through busyness and relentlessly pursue productivity. It's called a "Things To Do List" (also known as a TTD List). You may be keeping some kind of task list already, but over time I have honed one specific version of this approach which I think you may find to be highly useful to you.
How I Discovered This Method
My fascination with the TTD List began in high school. I had recently transferred in, so I was new to the school and didn't know very many people. I was also a bit overwhelmed because it was a highly competitive school and most of the other kids seemed to have had known each other all their lives.
Eventually I found my social niche as a member of the debate team. My senior year, I ended up winning the Texas state debate championship, among other accolades. That probably wouldn't have been possible without learning how to do my daily TTD List.
One of my debate partners seemed to really have this aspect of her life figured out. Each day, she would start with a blank sheet of typing paper and write the heading "TTD List" with a big, bold marker. She would then list the tasks for the day, crossing them off when complete. It sounds simple! And it is. But she seemed to be onto something, since she was near the top of the class academically and she subsequently went to Harvard.
Recording the Tasks
Similar to the method I observed from my friend in high school, I start with a blank sheet of typing paper. Sometimes I label the page and sometimes I do not. It's not really necessary at this point for me, but sometimes I like how it looks to have a nice clean title.
When I wake up, or shortly thereafter, I start listing out each task that pops into my mind that needs to be accomplished. At this point in the process, I'm writing down all tasks that come to mind, without any sort of editing. I write short term tasks at the top and longer term tasks at the bottom.
It is very important to write down all tasks that spring to your mind, without editing. Err on the side of writing the task down, no matter how menial, rather than tracking it on your mind. Writing down too many tasks is better than forgetting even one of them.
Over time, what you will find is that your brain starts to be trained for this ritual and the tasks simply start pouring out of your mind each morning. I also find that the most important tasks tend to come up in my thinking earlier rather than later. If you're stressed about having to resolve some specific problem or issue, it's likely that you are going to be thinking about that thing when you sit down to write down your tasks in the morning. Conversely, other tasks are going to also occur to you throughout the day, so you want your TTD List accessible, along with a pen or other writing instrument, for ease of capturing these additional tasks throughout the day.
For whatever reason, and I'm really not sure what that reason is, this listing of tasks seems to work much better for me with a physical piece of unlined white typing paper rather than on a virtual page via a computer or tablet. I think the physical writing appeals to my visual thinking style somehow that simply doesn't translate into the virtual world.
Adding the Star
Perhaps an hour or two after I wake up, I now have a list of tasks written down on what was previously a blank page. Sometimes the list is relatively short (right now mine has four items listed) and sometimes the list can be so long as to fill the page completely. In either case, now it's time to prioritize. Keep in mind that it is highly unlikely that you are going to complete every single task today. Instead, the key to high productivity is to accomplish the one or two most important tasks for the day, every single day. Over time, this harnesses tons of efficiency because you are relentlessly prioritizing what is most important (from a task accomplishing perspective) each day.
My method for prioritizing is simple: I put a star by the most important task. That's it. On the vast majority of days, there is only one star but occasionally I will allow a second star. The second star is rare and I only use it in instances where I basically have two emergency-level tasks that have to be handled asap that very day. Otherwise I limit myself to only one star each day because more stars would result in less focus. The starring is a key part of the process.
The star means "this is the task that must be accomplished today." It focuses your mind on the most important task on the list, which means the important things get done. It also puts you in a position to feel good about yourself, even if you just accomplish that one item on the list. The day is a success (work-wise) if the starred item is complete. Occasionally, the starred item won't get finished due to external factors out of my control, in which case that item usually becomes the starred item for the next day.
Adding the Horizontal Line
So now you have a list of tasks (adding more throughout the day), with the most important one of them starred. On most days, you will be able to accomplish other tasks in addition to the starred one. But you probably won't finish everything on the list if you are comprehensively recording all task ideas. Recognizing this, I now add something I call "the Sweetser Line," which I named after one of my former mentors.
I look at the list to see how many of the tasks I can reasonably or ideally expect to accomplish that day. I then draw a long horizontal line across the page underneath the last task for today. This line visually divides the tasks for today at the top from the tasks for later at the bottom. This allows me to ignore everything below the line without guilt. Now they don't distract me from my current prioritizes and I can feel good knowing that they have been written down. I know they will be prioritized later in future TTD lists.
Focus all of your energy on the starred task. After completing the starred task, I try to finish every other task above the Sweetser Line during that one day. I almost never accomplish all of them, but I do frequently complete around 80% - 90% of them. To me, that is the definition of a highly productive person. I basically always finish the starred task for the day and then also finish the majority of the other tasks above the Sweetser Line. The remaining tasks go on the next days' TTD List.
Regarding crossing items off the list, I think this is fairly self explanatory. I cross each item off the list as it gets completed. This gives me a little feeling of accomplishment each time which is pleasant.
Do not allow yourself to cross something off just because you have started working on it! Only cross items off when actually complete so you time the positive reinforcement in sync with task completion. This builds momentum to accomplish more.
Try it Yourself!
So that's how to make your own TTD List and how to be highly productive each day. It only requires a piece of paper and a writing tool. You list every task that comes to mind throughout the day, you star the most important one, you add the horizontal line to release yourself from the longer term tasks, and then you cross off items when complete. The strength of the system is that it focuses your mind, which then harnesses the power of your subconscious to prioritize and make sure the important things happen.
Be sure to let us know how this is working for you when you try it out! Have a wonderfully productive day!