Most of us have those items on our to do list – the ones that languish there for weeks, months, maybe even years. The ones that give us a minor (or major) guilt trip every time we see them, because we still haven’t done them. The ones that repel us, the ones that overwhelm us. I have good news! There is a way to tame your to do list and make it work for you instead of against you.
How can your to do list can help you get things done?
- Make sure your to do list is current and complete.
We’re moving fast, getting it done. We’ll cross it off later, right? Start by making sure that your list only has those things that still need to be done. Cross off the ones that you’ve finished or are no longer relevant.
- Write down tasks as soon as you think of them.
We generally can only remember about 9 things at a time, and that’s on a good day. Our brains are better at thinking and processing than remembering, so let’s not force them to do something they’re not great at. Keeping your lists on paper also helps you remember that you need milk while you’re at the store and not while you’re pulling into your driveway from a grocery trip. (Please tell me that I’m not the only one that’s done that; I knew I was forgetting something!)
- Make each task the actual next thing you need to do.
A task like “Jill’s school” requires you to re-think the same thoughts every time you think of it. What about Jill’s school do I need to do? “Sign Jill up for pre-school” is much better, unless you don’t know which school, when the deadline is for signups, and/or haven’t even gotten close to making a decision yet. “Research local preschools” would be an even better task in that case. If you know people to ask for recommendations, “Call Jane and Michelle re preschool recommendations” would be the best version as it contains your actual next action to complete. Be nice to your future self when you’re writing your tasks: make them actionable and specific and be sure to include any information you might need to complete it as well (phone numbers, store hours for errands, etc.). The goal is to have the feeling of “I can do that” for each task as you read your list. Then you’re just limited by energy, amount of time to complete, and/or location.
Sometimes your tasks will have more than one step before they’re completed. If there is just one additional, connected step, I will sometimes just write it with the first step. “Call mom for aunt’s new phone number / Call aunt to invite to Jill’s birthday” For more than one follow up step, you can handle this in a couple of different ways: a task with a few subtasks or (if there are a lot of related tasks, which is really a project) have a separate page for each project with all the tasks needed to complete it.
- Separate your to do list into groups of similar tasks.
This allows you to tackle like tasks together, if you want. Put all your phone calls together on one list, and all your errands together on another. Maybe you want to group your home and work tasks separately. I like to batch process my tasks, so if I make a phone call, I might as well make as many of them at the same time as possible. You probably do something like this already – you probably don’t mix your grocery list of items to purchase with all of your other tasks. Just think of extending this to the rest of your list.
- Keep your calendar sacred.
Only include appointments and things you have to do on a certain day. It doesn’t matter if you have a paper planner or an online calendar. If you write down “would like to dos” or “should dos” on a certain day, but don’t actually get them done, you have to remember to move them. Chances are good that you’ll forget to forward them to another day to your master list, and they’ll get lost. It’s better to look back at a master list, see all your options, and choose things to do as you know you have time or energy.
For some, using just a master list might be overwhelming, so I personally have a hybrid. In addition to the master list, I make a list of the things I need to do that week, but don’t have to do on a specific day. That way I’m looking only at a subset of tasks when I choose what I do next. If I finish my weekly list before the end of the week, then I look at my master list for additional things to do.
Do your thinking as you make your to do list
Hopefully by following these 5 steps you’ll find yourself drawn to your to do list and actually completing tasks. It’s better to do your thinking and deciding about the real action behind a task once when you’re writing it down. Otherwise you have to do that thinking each time you look at your list. If a task is too undefined (“Weekly garden maintenance”), I’m less likely to start it – especially when my energy is low. Instead, I break things down as small as possible (“Weed garden beds” “Harvest veggies” “Push tomato plants back into cages”). In the end, I like looking back at what I’ve done that day, all marked off. It makes me feel good.
What do you do to make your to do list work for you?
(Originally a guest post over on Penny Pincher Homemaker, which unfortunately is no longer available – so I have I have posted the article its entirety above.)
About the author:
Kendra Bork is a business owner, sewist, knitter, dancer, and lover of things vintage and retro who lives in a 1950’s bungalow in Southern California with her engineer/farmer husband, a large vegetable garden, and two dogs. The two of them teach the life skills that seem to be missing from modern society (and the ones that never would have been included in 50’s home ec classes) over at ModernHomeEconomics.