Let me set the scene.
It’s a lovely Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my office preparing the week’s blog posts.
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I’m not sure why but for some reason, I glance sideways at the wall to see a to-do list hanging there.
The list is written on a Post-it note (one of the big ones that looks like a page from a flip chart) and stuck to my wall.
The heading at the top of the page reads To-Do List Thurs/Friday. Some of the tasks are ticked off and completed, some are still outstanding.
There is just one BIG problem with this picture. This to-do list is about 4 months old.
I couldn’t even tell you when I wrote it, or exactly how long it has been hanging on my wall.
If I went through my email inbox, I’d find more to-do lists in my email. I’d also find them in my workbook that I write in every day.
There are also some regular post-it notes floating around my desk which are part of my to-do list and I’m pretty sure I have one of those cute to-do list notepads hidden somewhere on my desk as well.
It was clear that I needed to get myself organized.
Here are my thoughts on sorting through my to-do list dilemma and escaping to-do list hell.
Have ONE to-do list
One area where I have been extremely successful working through my to-do list has been when I go traveling.
I make up one central list (which can sometimes be pages long) and I work through the list methodically, striking items out as I go.
Obviously, this is a process I need to incorporate back into my work.
Work off one list. Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
Related post – How to Achieve Your Goals
When I was working full-time for an employer, (yet dreaming of working for myself), I would write up lists of what I wanted to be working on at that exact moment, not lists of what I could successfully achieve in one weekend.
My lists weren’t realistic for the amount of time I had available outside of work.
At the time of writing, my lists were fuelled by frustration, not motivation.
While it is certainly a good idea to push yourself to your full potential, it is another to set yourself up to fail with over the top ‘I can’t fit it all in, no matter how hard I work’ to-do lists.
Instead set realistic action lists and time frames, work hard and set yourself up to succeed.
Related post – The Importance of Hitting Deadlines
Grade items on the list
I tend to pile everything on to my to-do list, from the major tasks that MUST be done today, to the minor ones that could be done by the end of the month without causing a problem.
Grade your items so that you are working on your important/urgent ones first. It could be as simple as using an A, B, C system or numbering them according to importance.
It’s also a good idea to date each list, that way you have a visual reminder of when the list was originated, which will assist in determining completion dates.
Speaking of which you need completion dates on your list as well.
You must prioritize your list.
Related post – How to Have More Self-Discipline
Cull your list
Do you need to be brutal and cull your to-do list?
If I had a close look at my lists, I would guarantee there are some items I could cull. There are bound to be items that should never have made it onto the list in the first place.
If you are anything like me, sometimes your list acts as a brainstorming outlet.
I jot down tasks as they pop into my head. Yet this doesn’t mean that every idea needs to be completed. Some ideas require further research to see if I want to follow through on their implementation.
Keep your brainstorming ideas separate from your to-do list.
Related post – How to Get Brilliant Ideas Out of Your Head
Realize the tasks you are avoiding could be really important
Whether we realize it or not, sometimes the tasks we fail to complete on our action lists, link directly back to our fears.
The fears we don’t like to talk about, let alone admit to ourselves. The big, dark scary fears that hold us back.
In these instances, the scary task can often be the most important.
Though it can be tempting to procrastinate and put off the fear factor, you will learn and grow a lot more if you dive in feet first and get the task done.
Looking at my old wall list, I realize one of the tasks I did not complete was important.
Important in the fact that it would have earned income, while most of the tasks I ticked off certainly didn’t. Yet I put it off because I was nervous about working on the task at the time.
The task I mentioned above was a writing opportunity. An opportunity which is no longer available. I missed that opportunity because I let my fear get in the way of doing business.
Don’t make the same mistake. Seize opportunities as they arise.
Related post – How to Break the Habit of Self-Doubt and Build Real Confidence
What if you don’t use to do lists?
If you never use lists and remember everything in your head (and get it all done), I take my hat off to you.
I need to write everything down or something slips through the cracks (or more to the point, I worry that something will slip through the cracks).
Your to-do list should support and motivate you to be productive and get things done.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to go rip something off my office wall!
Though I have changed my to-do list process, I still love my large Post-It note wall stickers. They are great for planning sessions, brainstorming and heaps more.
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One of the things I love about my To Do list is it helps me realize when things are expendable or maybe need to be delegated/re-prioritized. I had an unpaid article that I was asked to do as a favor for an acquaintance, and I was hesitant.
So I added it to my list, hemmed and hawed. Staring at it’s little checkbox taunting me daily.
Finally I emailed the editor and explained I just didn’t have the time nor the resources to do the piece. They were upset but understood. Saying no and not adding it to my list in the first place would have been the best option, this was an acceptable second.
Great to see you here. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.
You are definitely right about to do lists making us re-prioritize. Delegation is also a great option if the opportunity exists.
It is interesting how we can sometimes agree to take on tasks yet know deep down that we should be saying no. People asking favours of us can definitely be tricky both in our personal lives and in business. Ultimately however you need to do what is right for your business and for yourself.
Thanks again for commenting and I hope to see you here again soon.
To do or not to do lists, that is the question. I think we all need reminders and a to do list is just that. I have people make a “Dream” list of 50-60 things that they want to be, do and have in their life.
Now the important thing is to prioritize that list and focus on the most important things first. It really doesn’t really if we never get to number 60.
The same thing needs to be done to our daily to do list, prioritize. And I want to mention that they should also in some way be taking us in the direction of our Dreams.
Even taking out the trash and cleaning off our desk. We work more efficient with a clean desk top.
Hi Coach Freddie
Great to have you here. Very impressive to see you commented on 3 posts!
That is a great point about if you think you can’t – you’re right. I have found that to be true so many times both with myself and with other people in my life. It is so important to believe in yourself, to believe you can and will do what needs to be done.
I am definitely starting to believe that age is a mindset. You can make yourself look and feel so much older, by stressing about getting older (it can be a bit of a vicious cycle). Yet you can feel so much younger and full of life by dreaming big and taking positive action to make that dream a reality.
Thanks for commenting.
Hi Coach Freddie
Thanks for the comment. Thanks also for your insight into to do lists.
Funny you should mention taking out the trash and cleaning the desk. I desperately need to do both of those (plus get rid of my recycling) this weekend. They are both on my to do list. I always work much better when I get those simple tasks done.