There’s More To a To-Do List Than To-Do’s

I know that sounds crazy.  A to-do list is a list of things to do.  What more could there be?

Actually, there’s actually a lot more.  Like:

1.       Choosing the right to-do’s based on importance.  It’s tempting sometimes (okay, always) to do the things that are easy, fun or the most satisfying.  But those aren’t usually the most important things.  And the problem with having a lot of those things on your list is that frequently we do those instead of the most important things and then we run out of time!  So we marked off a bunch of meaningless tasks but we missed the priorities.  Have you ever done this?  I have.  Every time I do it I kick myself because I know better.  And I end up paying a heavy price by missing a deadline or having to do something late in the day when I’m exhausted.

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2.       Choosing the right to-do’s based on goals.  Sometimes we have to do what we have to do regardless of whether it fits the goals we have for our life.  But we also do a lot of stuff we don’t have to do that doesn’t fit our goals.  We do it because we feel like we should, or we can’t say no, or we didn’t look at our calendar when we said yes.  But as much as possible, we should put items on our to-do list that fit our goals.  For example, maybe your goal is to exercise every day.  But instead of exercising, you say yes to a bunch of other things that prevent you from being able to exercise.  Optional things.  Things you could have said no to.   If something doesn’t fit your goals for your life and it’s optional, seriously consider whether you should do it.

3.       Choosing the right number of to-do’s.  This is completely personal but it’s important that you know the magic number for YOU.  My friend, Doug Puryear, author of Your Life Can Be Better, puts a maximum of 5 things on his list.  When he gets stuck, he puts 1 thing on his list.  He knows that more than 5 means he won’t get anything done.  I like to put 10 things on my list.  I am rarely able to accomplish all 10, but if I do, I will put 5 more tasks.  Limiting the list to 10 forces me to think about what’s really important and keeps me from being sidetracked (at least not as much).  If my list is too long, I tend to do the easy things or the things that sound fun.  So find your magic number so your list will work for you.

To-Do List 1

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4.       Choosing the right to-do’s based on the day’s schedule.  I am NOT good at making to-do lists.  Are you surprised?  I was when I realized it.  I thought I was great.  What I am good at is making a nice, long list of everything that needs to be done SOMETIME.  But when it comes down to planning what I’m actually going to do tomorrow, I’m not so good.  Here are some of my issues:

  • I’m overly optimistic about what I can accomplish.  If I make the list the morning of, I’m better.  But when I make it the night before, I plan way too many tasks or I plan tasks I can’t possibly do based on my schedule.
  • I tend to make a “wish list” rather than an actual “plan”.
  • I write down things I know I should do but not necessarily things I know I will do.
  • I always think I have way more time and energy than I really do.  Even though I know how long things take, I still plan as if I don’t.
  • And I’m notorious for thinking this is the day I’m going to get up early and get started right away.
  • Oh, and I forget to allow for interruptions like unexpected errands, phone calls, texting, etc.

That being said, when you make your to-do list for tomorrow, for it to be effective, you have to take into account what kind of day you have planned.  For example, when the little kids come over, I know I’ll have a few hours while they’re napping, but the rest of the time I’ll be at their beck and call.  I’m okay with that – that’s what grandma’s do.  But it’s foolish for me to plan a full day of tasks unless I have an attitude of “I’ll have this list ready in case I have an opportunity.  But nothing is urgent so if I don’t get to any of it, it’s no big deal.

When I was working full-time, I was very frustrated at first because I felt like I had NO TIME.  I’d been a full-time homemaker for years and the house and family were my first priorities.  Suddenly I didn’t have any time for the house but there was still plenty to be done.  I planned tasks for the evenings but never could get to all of them.  Finally I sat down and figured out the problem.

7:30   Get up, shower & dress, eat breakfast
8:30   Leave for work
6:00   Get home from work.  Immediately start dinner, eat and clean-up.
7:00   Tasks
8:30   Couch time with husband.  Exhausted.
10:00 Bedtime.

When I looked at my schedule, I realized I had about an hour every night to do tasks.  No wonder I wasn’t getting anything done.  From then on, when I made my evening to-do list, I made a list of tasks that would take about an hour.  I was still frustrated with my lack of time but now I was able to plan realistically.  So when you get ready to make your to-do list for tomorrow, look at your schedule and plan realistically based on what’s going on that day.

to-do 4 to-do 5

Making a to-do list isn’t simply writing down the things you want or need to do tomorrow.  Unfortunately a good to-do list requires some thought and effort.  How are you at making a to-do list?

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