I’m a big To Do List writer. You can find my list of things I need to do on yellow sticky notes all over my office cubicle. Primarily, I write things down because I am forgetful. You know out of sight out of mind! However, I find I am much more productive and can clear my mind when I take the time to write things down. And…. I get great satisfaction when I actually cross things off my list. In fact, crossing items off my list brings me so much joy that I make To Do Lists at home too!
A co-worker recently shared a great article with me about how to write better To Do Lists. Imagine my joy when I realized that my lists could be an even more powerful tool! Here are some great recommendations from Ali at dumblittleman.com.
Write Down Everything That’s On Your Mind
You’ve probably got a whole bunch of stuff in your head right now: tasks to do, projects to complete, things you need to buy, phone calls to make, and so on.
Grab a piece of paper or fire up an app, and write it all down. This might take 10-15 minutes and you may end up with a horribly long list. Don’t worry – we’re not going to tackle it all!
Find the Important Tasks
Look through your list and highlight anything that’s important. That might be mission-critical tasks at work, promises that you’ve made at home, or anything that’s going to cause you a lot of inconvenience if it doesn’t get done (like paying your bills).
It’s up to you to decide what counts as “important” – it’s not just about work tasks. If you’d really love to start a blog, take a pottery class or go skydiving, those can go on your important list too.
Find the Urgent Tasks
Go through your list again, ideally with a different colored highlighter. This time, pick out anything that’s urgent. These might not be especially important tasks – but they need to be completed within the next few days.
Urgent tasks might be taking back your library books, making a phone call, sending out an email, or similar. Again, it’s up to you to decide what counts as urgent – you might want to focus on tasks for the next day or for the next week.
Pick Two Important Tasks
Now, look at your important tasks. Choose:
- One small task to do today (like “finish that report and send it to the boss”)
- One medium-sized task to do some time this week (like “write the first chapter of my novel”)
Depending on your schedule and the size of the tasks, you might want to pick two or three tasks in each category. Make sure that you phrase your to-do list items as actual tasks. “Report” is not a task; “Write the conclusion to the report” is.
Add in Urgent Tasks
Hopefully, you won’t have too many urgent tasks … but even if you feel overwhelmed by them, it’s still a good idea to get your important tasks in place first. (That way, you avoid building up a backlog of tasks that keeps you chasing urgent things rather than important ones.)
If you can, ditch any urgent-but-unimportant tasks, or get someone else to give you a hand to get through them.
Again, make sure that you break the items down into specific actions (especially if you’re going to be delegating).
Make a To-Do List Every Morning
Now that you’ve got a big list of tasks, it’s easy to look through each morning and decide what needs to be done. Every day, pick one – three important tasks, and make these a real priority. Jot down any urgent tasks too, so that you don’t forget them.