March 4, 2013

To Do or Not To Do: 5 Tips for an Effective List

I love To Do lists.  I love having everything written down so I don’t have to remember what needs to be done.  I love crossing items off my list.  I love the security knowing that little will slip through the cracks.

My brain isn’t big enough to remember all the things that need doing.  I’d rather use my brain for higher level strategic thinking than wondering if I need to buy milk.  I hate that nagging feeling that I need to do something, but I’ve forgotten what it is.

Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

1. Form Doesn’t Matter

Don’t worry about what your list looks like.  You can use specialized software for your computer or mobile device, or simply keep a handwritten list in a spiral notebook.  What matters is that you use ONE system, that you’re consistent and that you put EVERYTHING on the list.  If you keep it all in one place, you won’t worry if you’ve forgotten anything.

A simple master list and a short daily list keeps me on track

2. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

The simpler you make your To Do list, the more likely you’ll actually use it.  You don’t need a complicated system.  For example, if you use a divided spiral notebook, you could keep a list of your big goals and projects in the front section, and other tasks like phone calls or repairs in the following sections.  Or you could use a running list you keep in a word processing document on your computer.  Whatever is easiest for you is best.

3. Break It Down

If you have an item that seems to languish on your list, take a hard look at it.  Is it too broad?  Too vague?  Too intimidating?  Break it down into smaller chunks.  Ask yourself the question: what’s the next action? Is it a phone call?  Is it an internet search? Do you need to consult with somebody else?  Write it down, and then do it.

4. Important vs Urgent

We all get caught up in day to day busyness.  I know I sometimes ask myself at 3:00 in the afternoon if I have accomplished anything significant.  I may have been busy all day, but was I doing important things? Recognize that tasks can be urgent (time sensitive) or important (significant consequences). Prioritize your list by putting the important tasks first.  Tasks fall into four broad categories: Important and Urgent, Important but Not Urgent, Urgent but Not Important,  Not Important and Not Urgent. Let the last category – Not Important/Not Urgent fall by the wayside.

5. Your Daily Hit List

Every day, write down four to five tasks that you plan to accomplish that day.  Review your master list and decide which items are doable today. Try to put at least one high priority task on the list.  Be realistic and don’t overload your daily list.  Put down just those specific tasks you know you can do.  The sense of satisfaction when you’ve done everything you set out to do is priceless.

I hope this gets you started.  For more information, here’s a link to a great article on Lifehacker with more tips about mastering your To Do list.

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