Fix Your To-Do Lists!
I wasn't always a big to-do list kinda guy. Sometimes I told myself I need to buckle down and be more responsible and professional...having an image of a business dressed professional carrying an over the shoulder bag and a notebook stuck in my brain. I need to write things down so that I don't forget them.
So I'd get in these modes and pull out yellow post-it notes bulleting the things i needed to get done. Often, I would get into a productive rhythm and start getting things done in the way that I had originally intended. Inevitably, however, at the end of the day I'd usually have a few items that weren't scratch off the list. Those items got added to the top of tomorrow's to-do. Yet the same thing happens the following day: I move a few uncompleted items to tomorrow's list...and the next day...and the next.
I found I was rarely ever completing my lists on the day that I had originally intended to. Then, of course, I am left feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, leading me to forego the lists totally.
Recently, I have found myself in a new occupation and want to prepare myself and be..."professional." But surely I am not the only one who has this list problem. There had to be another way. I read numerous articles about why to-do lists supposedly don't work at all, why they work but I am doing them wrong, and how to make them work.
I tried various methods over the course of the week and found that not a single article I read had the exact advice I needed to finish my daily to-do lists like a true hardened professional. I decided to try something new, and I think it has been working pretty well for me. I have been able to complete everything on my to-do list every day. All I needed was four simple changes.
1. Get Rid of the Obvious
First things first: Stop writing down the obvious things you do on a daily basis. I'm talking about things such as "eat breakfast," "shower," etc. Adding tasks like these only serves to clutter up your to-do list and can make you feel overwhelmed. There is no reason to keep these things on your daily list.
2. Organize Tasks According to Quickies, Work, and The Real World
The next step I took was organizing my daily to-do list into three sections. The first section I call "quickies." These are very short tasks I can complete on my laptop or smartphone. The next section is "work." These tasks are among the most critical for the day. "Why aren't they at the top of the list, then?" You may ask..but I will get to that int he next step. The final section is what I call the "real world." These tasks are things that can't be done at work or digitally. They are the errands you need to run in the real world.
3. Get the Least Time-Consuming Tasks Done Within the First Couple Hours After You Get Up.
The great thing about quickies or digital tasks is they usually do not have to happen in real time (an email can be sent whenever, versus a phone call that requires two people to be available at the same time). I found that many of the tasks I had scratched down on my daily to-dos were really just quickies. They could be taken care of in a few minutes each, yet it seemed like much more immersive tasks because they were not organized together and completed all at once.
Now these tasks get taken care of on my commute to work or while I am eating breakfast in the morning. This allows me to scratch off a third of my to-do list before my work day has begun. Psychologically this makes me feel like I am accomplishing a lot, and it also lets me focus on the bigger tasks to be completed. Those tasks fall under my "work" section. These are the most important, time-consuming tasks I need to get done each day. For me, items in this section almost always involve tasks I'm paid to do. There's another trick I learned to completing these, which I'll talk about in the last step.
The final section of this list layout is "real world." Tasks listed here are any things I need to complete that aren't related to work. These tasks are less important than my work ones since the only deadlines for completing them are my own...which is why this section of items goes after my "work" section. Here, I add any task that I consider an errand and I don't do on a daily basis. These tasks also appear last since I can complete them outside of working hours.
4. Add Time Estimates to Big Tasks
The final step I took was adding time estimates to any big tasks that I have. For me, this mainly includes my "work" tasks. I find adding something simple, like..."Recreate the blah blah on the thingamajig - 2 hrs" allows me to allot enough time to get those tasks done. This allows me to make sure I actually have enough time in the day to complete everything on my list. If my quickies are all short tasks, I know they will be done by the time I get to work. From the time estimates of my work tasks (the most important ones), I know will take at least 6.5 hours to get done.
Gotta have some buffer there, right?
That means with all of that done in time, I should have time to complete my "real world" tasks by the end of the day.
Ever since I started using this new format, I have found that the tasks on my lists get completed almost every day. Of course, there are times when things creep up outside of work and plans change, but that's normal.
Now, keep in mind...these sections are what work for me. Yours could have 5 sections (I feel sorry for you). Still, by eliminating the obvious, organizing your tasks, getting short ones out of the way and done first, and adding time estimates to the big ones...you will find yourself completing your to-do list items every day.
You can do it!