Features | March 03, 2020
Mastering the To-Do List
The to-do list: It’s unique to each person in its style, power and reward. For me, there are many lists going at every moment — lists specific to big projects, annual lists to check important markers, and ongoing lists to update targets and accountability. For now, though, let’s focus on the daily to-do list.
Daily To-Do List Tips
When should you start writing one? After a quick Google search, the general consensus from experts is the evening before. Making a list for tomorrow signals to your brain to clear today away and begin again fresh, while also cueing your subconscious to tune in to what’s on the burner. Somewhere in that busy gray matter, you may start percolating on the challenges of the next day. As an added benefit, you’ll be less likely to have anxiety in the morning with a list laid out. For me, when it comes to workdays, I’m more successful when creating my list a day ahead. (My weekend list is different — more on that coming up.)
- Be realistic. That said, create the list when you’re most clearheaded about reality, and keep in mind appointments and obligations scheduled, as well. Don’t compose your day like your grocery list. There’s no need to write out every responsibility; you do too much for that. Include what you need to remind yourself to do and what’s most important. Of course, the process of making a list in and of itself sometimes helps with focusing on priorities. Especially if you force yourself to limit the list.
- Limit the list. When it comes to the workday, I limit the daily list to five items. Obviously, I’m doing many more tasks, expected and unexpected. However, my daily responsibilities aren’t generally included on my list. I write out the most important, then sometimes I still have to shave back to five. I do keep a longer list of important tasks/projects for the week, and I may move one of those to a day’s list to be sure to take the time for it, or I squeeze those in as I can. In any case, I reference both lists each day.
- Add directives and timing. Include projects that are ongoing with prompts like start, continue and finish. Sometimes the most important thing you should do that day is to “start (fill in the blank).” Consider adding the time allotted for each listed item to keep you on track. Also, by putting phases to a broader goal on your list, you can line up the resources for the next step.
- Prioritize. Doing the hardest tasks first is actually a time saver. Also, use your list as a reminder to take time for the most important challenges. Keeping and growing your business, or whatever else is most important right now, requires time and concentration. Your best you.
Bonus: The Can-Do and the Done Lists
The Can Do List
In my world, weekends are even crazier than weekdays. There’s work-work to do (what’s Saturday but a lower-interruption workday, right?), then household needs, personal adventures, family time, community events, celebrations, relaxing, reading, writing, planning and so on. To be honest, weekend to-dos are packed. So, each weekend I create my “This Weekend I Can” list. By changing to can-do instead of to-do, I give myself permission to make a crazy long wish list and also not get it all done. Also, this list may include tasks like nap, watch an old movie and check Facebook, in addition to what you’d expect: laundry, menu planning, grocery store, etc.
The Done List
You know those days/weeks in life when it all feels a little like running with the bulls? So much to do and it all feels uphill. I suggest keeping a bedside notebook with your “done” list. Each night, write down one thing you got done today. Some days may be simply “Kept the shop doors open and shipped all we could.” Guess what? That’s a pretty darn good day once you see it on paper. Like Benjamin Franklin, reflect, “What good did I do today?” Then, go to sleep on what’s done and leave what’s still to do for the morning routine.
Like everything about time management, successful and fulfilling to-do list creation and follow-through are unique and change over time. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new list techniques as your home, social, family and work life evolve.
Mardra Sikora is the CEO of Pocket Folders Fast and is obsessed with time. Record time. On time. Making time. And on it goes. You can reach her via PocketFoldersFast.com or via Twitter @MardraInPrint
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