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 Thursday/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 onto 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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