Make Your To-Do List a Ta-Da List!

career organized sweet but fearless time management to-do list transformation Jun 02, 2021

You already know that to-do lists help you get focused and organized throughout the day. When you have your to-do list in hand, you're freeing your mind from all the disorganized thoughts and, instead, getting them down on paper.

However, this technique can go awry if your to-do list isn't organized as well as it should be or as lengthy as "War and Peace." At the end of the day, you may find that many of the things on your to-do list are not crossed off. Instead of focusing on what you did accomplish, you focus on those items not done. 

As a professional list creator, I love my to-do list. Over the years, I have found a method to create my to-do list that's actionable, doable, and flexible.  I have that one thing that must get done, no matter what. After that, then I can go down my list.

At the end of the day I reflect, I celebrate, and I recalibrate. 

So here are some tips from this professional to-do list maker:

1. Clarify Priorities. It may help you to develop some sort of ranking system for your to-do list. Certainly, every item on the list can't be equally important. You can even use a number system and rank them from 1 to 5. Items ranked 1 might have a higher priority, while the 5s are tasks that should be done, but don't need to be done that day.

You should also clarify your priorities in the sense that you need to leave detailed instructions. Figure out the: who, what, where, when, and why of items that may be complicated. This way, when it comes time to tackle the task, you won't skip over them simply because they seem too complex to complete.

2. Pare Down the List. You need to complete tasks or part of tasks one step at a time. If you have 15 minutes to spare, find something on the list that you can complete in that time period. It's common to tell yourself that 15 minutes is not enough time to do something, but all those 15-minute chunks add up to something huge. At the end of the day, you'll be surprised how much you've accomplished in small increments.

In fact, Mary Sullivan, one of our co-founders, talked about creating a "sticky note process for time management" in Facebook Live looking at how you can break down your to-do list by time. Check it out!

And as a side note, read or watch Nick Hornby's "About a Boy." Hugh Grant's character, Will, breaks down his day in time units, each of which consists of no more than 30 minutes. A team meeting, two units. Performance review with an employee, one and a half units. Emails, one unit three times a day (for a total of 3 units for the day). I'm not very good with the unit method, but I know there are others who this works for brilliantly.

3. Include Flex Time. If your to-do list is too rigid, it simply won't be effective. You absolutely need to include some flexibility and breathing room in your day. Try not to jam-pack your day with unreasonable goals, otherwise, you'll be at risk of disappointment.

4. Add in Something Fun. Your to-do list is no doubt full of things you may not be looking forward to. That's why integrating fun activities and tasks should also be a priority! When you add in a fun item it doesn't feel like work. It may even feel like a break. When you return to the less desirable items, you'll be more motivated to actually get them done.

5. Don't List Too Much. It's vital not to overwhelm yourself. While some days might be action-packed in order to reach certain deadlines, you need to avoid this level of stress on a regular basis. If there's too much on your plate, or you have to work too fast, you can't possibly enjoy yourself and you'll only end up frustrated and overwhelmed.

6. Keep It Organized. Your list needs to be organized in a way that makes you feel comfortable. There are many options nowadays, especially with digital devices. I use the old-fashioned pen and paper method. There's something about writing down what needs to be done and the satisfaction of crossing it off. For others, they opt for using online software like Trello or Evernote. While I know a great many use their mobile phone to keep track of their daily to-dos. The important thing is that you need to find what works for you. 

Challenge yourself this week to view your to-do list differently. Change it up, see if another way works better. 

Be fearless in your pursuit of time management!