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Do you have difficulty managing your time well and accomplishing all the items on your to-do list? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. However, there’s a way for you to turn things around, focus on the tasks at hand, and maintain an optimistic mindset throughout the whole process. Introducing the Zen to Done method.

What is Zen to Done?

The Zen to Done method is a multi-step productivity system that shows you how to develop the habits you need one by one. Developed by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, this simple system can help people develop individual habits through a workflow management system. This simple trusted system teaches you how to take a simple approach to improve your productivity levels by encouraging you to focus on one habit at a time.

One of the most popular productivity systems available today, the Zen to Done system suggests you form 10 productivity habits, but the simplified version in this article will focus on five habits only.


One of the best ways to clear your mind and improve your focus level is to get your to-do’s and ideas out of your mind, and put them into writing. You have to train yourself to stop and document all the things you have to do as soon as you realize the need to do them. Forming this habit keeps your mind clear, helps avoid forgetting things, and provides you with a master list of the things you have to accomplish.

To form the collect habit, you require two things: one is to choose a place to collect all your to-do’s and two is to document them as soon these things are assigned to you. You don’t have to write your tasks on paper. You can utilize other tools readily available to you such as the memo or notes app, email, and even task management software. Use whatever tool is with you at all times, so you can document tasks when needed.


After you collect and write down your master list, you need to process them. This means you have to decide what action to take for each item on your list. Processing your to-do list keeps the urgent things at the top of your mind, and it helps your to-do list be more feasible and simple. Every morning, before you start the day with new tasks, go through the tasks on your list individually. Then you segregate them with the following action items:

  • Do. If the action item would require you less than 2 minutes, do it immediately so you can take it off your list. For example, you receive a simple email that requires you to reply with an acknowledgment. Reply quickly so you can lessen the unread items in your inbox.
  • Defer. If the item would take you more than 2 minutes to finish, you should defer it to a later time. At this point, you want to focus on processing your list, and you shouldn’t let yourself get distracted by action items.
  • Delegate. If the task can be done by someone else, you should just delegate it right away. You need to be able to focus on important tasks. Delegate as you go through your list as long as this wouldn’t take more than a few minutes. If not, you can defer the delegation process so you can go back to your list.
  • Delete. If a task doesn’t require you to act on it, just delete it from your list, so you can reduce your goals, and go back to the important things. You want to keep things simple, and that means having to move on to the next if necessary.
  • File. If you need to file an item for future reference, do it right away so there’s less distraction. This is so you can avoid your lists from piling up as well.


The next habit to form is the one to plan. Once you’re done with your list, you’ll be left with items on your ‘deferred’ list. You have to come up with a game plan attack. A method recommended by Babauta to do this efficiently is called Big Rocks, a concept from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Basically, you imagine that you have a jar, a few big rocks, and hundreds of pebbles or smaller rocks. If you put in the smaller rocks first, you won’t have space for the big rocks. Adapting the same principle to your calendar, you need to set aside time to work on high-priority items so your schedule won’t be filled up with little tasks.

To save space for your big rocks, review your tasks at the start of the week, and choose 4 to 6 things you can manage to do within the week. Next, you have to block time out on your schedule and assign those high-priority items accordingly. Lastly, the first thing each morning, select one to three big rocks to tackle within the day. Unexpected things happen every day, and you need to be flexible enough to accommodate them as they come.


The do habit details that as you work on your big rocks, you need to eliminate distractions that may impede you from achieving your goals. You should close your inbox to avoid going through unnecessary emails. Put your phone on silent or put it on ‘do not disturb’ mode in order to avoid the temptation to check messages or social media. Arguably the easiest habit in the Zen to Done method, this requires you to focus on the tasks and hand. You have to do things one thing, one day at a time in order to achieve your goals and improve your overall productivity levels.

Find your passion.

One habit to develop in order to make work more enjoyable is to find your passion. This could be the last habit for you to form, but it’s also the most important one. If love what you’re doing, your lists won’t seem like a chore. The lists will be more motivating, and you’ll enjoy the process even more. Life is short to be anything but happy, and coming up with an organized method of doing something you genuinely like will be more rewarding.

If you’ve found this helpful and you want to discover how you can become more productive, check out this free training we have coming up on the 3 Lifehacks of Highly Productive People.

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Asian Efficiency Team

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