I was recently on the look out for some web (and portable) ToDo management application. I tried many, as many are free.
At some point I was even forced to re-define my own needs as I got confused. There are indeed at least two different kinds of tracking applications. Some are like iDoneThis, which is a sort of reporting tool. Some are more like Don't Forget The Milk, which seems more a pure ToDo managing application. What I needed was something more of the second type and in the end my preference went to ToDoist; it's got all the features I need, especially the time-setting thing which is great.
A couple of days after I signed up they sent me an (automated) email, listing a few pro "tips". Well, I was inclined to consider that as spam but after a quick read instead I realized the "tips" were very well chosen and also had a much broader scope than just inviting me to try the other features. These were discussing some principles I felt already familiar with, somehow, but the listing reinforced the core concepts. I thought they were worth sharing, see for yourself:
Many of the emails you receive contain action items, but without a way to set due dates, priorities, and reminders, those emails often get forgotten.
The same can be said for the other action items you put in the list!
If possible don’t try to do several things at once. Use your to-do list to keep you focused and on track. By working systematically to complete each task on your list, you’ll get more done.
I read that as a suggestion to prioritize the list and work on the one (or a few) item from the top.
Break big tasks into a number of smaller sub-tasks that can be completed in 1 hour or less.
I wouldn't enforce the 1 hour timeline, but the concept of splitting the bigger tasks into a number of smaller and easier to track items remains valid.
If your tasks aren’t accessible at all times, you’ll start to forget about them and miss opportunities to get things done.
I used to have separate lists for different purposes. Read, I don't mix work items with personal tasks, but I make sure my work todo list is easy to reach from any of the devices I use when working.
To improve your productivity, you need to be able to see how productive you are now and how your productivity levels change over time. Once you can see how your productive you are, you can work on figuring out which productivity tactics are working for you and improve your output.