To-do lists are great. I use them all the time because they help me to remember what I need to do and keep me focused on my goals. It is also quite satisfying to put a big check mark next to something that I completed.
However, if your to-do list has 153 entries, or includes entries such as, “Write a book,” your list is counter-productive. Your list should not overwhelm you or seem impossible.
Here are my secrets for getting the most out of my to-do list . . .
First of all, how do you deal with those ginormous jobs? If the things on your list are to write a book, organize the garage, or learn to use a new computer program, it is unlikely you will do any of those in one day. Instead, break up the big job into multiple small pieces. This better defines what you need to do and gives you a feeling of accomplishment as you complete each step. Also, you will waste less time trying to figure out what to do next when the steps are laid out for you.
In the example of writing a book, the steps might be to choose a topic, research to see what other books have already been published on that subject, choose a title, and write an outline. You might do one of these each day, or you may do more than one in a single day. Then your goal could be to write at least 1000 words every day until the book is complete, then edit a chapter a day, etc. Each of these is much more specific and manageable than, “Write a book.”
The same principle can be applied to any large task: break it into bite-size pieces to keep from being overwhelmed. When I recently organized the books in my library, I did it a couple of bookshelves at a time rather than trying to organize the entire room in one day. It was less stressful and much more effective to do the job in parts.
You should list all of the tasks in your project, but that is not your to-do list. I have a master list with all of the projects and goals I am working on, then I create a daily list with only as many items as I reasonably expect to accomplish in a day.
A good place to start is with three tasks. What are the three most important things you will accomplish today? My list often includes many more than three tasks, but the point is to stay within the range of what I expect to get done that day. For example, my list for today includes:
- Pay bills.
- Write this blog post.
- Write a guest post I promised to another blog.
- Do laundry.
- Fill a trash bag with junk I can get rid of.
You may notice that this list is a little light on work-related tasks, but this is not a work day. My list tomorrow may have some personal stuff on it, but it will be much more focused on work. (Lots more writing, some business planning activities, etc.)
Look for opportunities to group tasks and get more done. When I have errands to run, I do them all together. So my to-do list might include:
- FedEx to drop off package.
- Pick up mail.
- Make deposit at bank.
- Buy toner cartridge.
- Pick up dry cleaning.
All of these tasks together will take 30 – 45 minutes to complete, but it would take much longer if each task involved a separate trip. Planning ahead and grouping tasks helps me to get more done in the same amount of time.
A to-do list is a tool. Use it to keep yourself on track and get more done, but it should never be a source of frustration or anger. If you hate your to-do list, try the suggestions here to make it work for you and not against you.