I’ll be honest, I’m not the most orderly person. When it comes to where everything goes in my room or how I arrange my desk, I like to refer to myself as creatively organized. As in, it is organized so creatively you can’t figure it out, but I can, and that’s all that matters.
However, when it comes to to-do lists, I am a BOSS at organizing what tasks are the most important and how to prioritize my time to get shit done.
In elementary school, everyone had to bring their agenda home and have their parents sign off on it to assure that assignments were written down. I learned how to forge my mom’s signature so I could sign myself off. My agenda was immaculately organized.
I always had everything written down, and I never missed an assignment.
That habit of writing things down and prioritizing my list never got old. Throughout high school, college, and even now, it has always been the best way for me to stay organized.
I have perfected my to-do list technique. So, If you need to master your to-do list, listen up! I’ll share my secrets with you.
Mastering the to-do list
First, I don’t use a digital planner because I enjoy the satisfaction of checking things off my to-do list. “Ahhh another task down!” It’s a fantastic feeling.
I use a Bloom Daily Planner to write everything down. I recommend you use a handwritten to-do list as well for this.
Let‘s start by reviewing the to-do list problems you might be struggling with right now
The types of to-do list problems:
- Too many things to do; overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin
- Never having enough time to do anything on the list
- Feeling busy but not productive
- Getting easily sidetracked from priorities
Figure out which problems are causing you the most trouble. Then apply the steps below to manage your to-do list and complete your tasks efficiently and effectively.
The too many things-to-do list
The biggest mistake we make when we’re trying to plan effectively is feeling like everything needs to get done, and it needs to be done now.
A list that is not prioritized is always going to seem overwhelming. If you have too many items on your list and you don’t even know where to begin, start with this very simple exercise.
Write down your number one priority, something that without a doubt you absolutely have to get done ASAP. Now, put a star next to it.
Next….Cross everything else out. Today, your only priority is to get this number one task done.
I get it, this sounds asinine, because we perceive everything as urgent. The whole list is a priority!
When we have a to-do list a mile long, it can be hard to determine where to start. What happens then is you A. either don’t start at all or B. (even worse) you try to do everything at once. What you end up with half-finished tasks and a bigger mess than when you started.
How do you know which task is the most important to accomplish?
Recognize that not all tasks are created of equal importance. The best thing to do is to start with anything that is time-sensitive.
Then from there look at the things you have written down and weigh-out in your mind how you would feel not completing each item. Picture what the outcome would be if you only completed one task today and then decide what that task should be.
Not enough time
The reason you don’t have enough time is that you never made time. Plan ahead the where and the when.
Procrastination is the arch-nemesis of the to-do list.
Don’t put things off till the last minute! If I took this advice in college, I would have saved myself a lot of stress and agony. Not to mention, I would have produced better results.
To plan your time effectively start by prioritizing what needs to happen this week. Then use the blocking strategy below to schedule time accordingly.
Busy but not productive
This may sound crazy, how can you be busy but not productive? Well, have you ever worked on many tasks all day long but by the end of the day don’t really feel like you accomplished anything?
This is because you aren’t doing result-producing tasks. When things start to pop up during the day, and you work on the new tasks immediately, the important things don’t get accomplished. These pop-up things are just distractions, they are likely unimportant, miscellaneous tasks that were never on your to-do list to start with.
Remember this, busy is not the same as productive.
Meaning you can work all day, feel super busy and by the ends of the day not produce anything of real value or importance.
Focus on getting one essential task done that gives you that satisfying feeling of progress. That’s what you want to aim for.
Getting easily sidetracked from priorities
This one has always been a tough one for me. My biggest problem is distractions.
The goal is to clean my room, but I get caught up in a project of untangling all my necklaces and never actually finish cleaning my room. Oh hello, ADHD there you are.
My solution for this is to set time restraints. If you give yourself the whole day to get something done, chances are you won’t use all that time wisely, but if you set a time limit on a task, it will feel more pressing to finish it in that frame of time. Leading to fewer distractions and more results.
The ultimate guide to organizing your to-do list
Always plan blocks of time for working on your to-do list. As mentioned above, it is ineffective to start random projects as you receive them. It can be overwhelming and make you feel like there is never enough time. Plus, you don’t end up working on the most meaningful tasks
The best way to block your time is to use a planner and schedule yourself. Decide what you are going to do when you are going to do it and write it down prior. Commit yourself, don’t veer away from the schedule because something else catches your attention. If you plan on reading from 6:00-7:00, don’t schedule drinks with the girls in that window.
This works even better if you keep a consistent routine and block specific times every week for friends/family, side-projects, cleaning and whatever else you need to fit into your schedule. Definitely make sure to block free-time for yourself. You won’t feel guilty about taking a break because you’ve already decided on your working hours.
Often times we see our to-do list as multiple projects that need to be finished. I look at everything I need to get done and groan because there always seems to be so much.
What helps me make my list more manageable is to categorize the tasks that are ocnnected to one another.
Instead of blocking time for each activity you can make time for each category.
Say for example you have to; post on social media, respond to your Facebook group, design Pinterest graphics and write an article. You could block off social media time in your calendar. Dedicate 3 hours to the tasks that fall under this category (post, respond to FB group, design Pinterest graphic). In this time you wouldn’t write the article because that would be in a different category blocked for a different time.
Break down big projects
Some tasks are too big to just be one item on your to-do list. These should be broken down into smaller, easy to accomplish projects.
For example, if on your to-do list, you have “set up my website,” this is more of a project than a single task. It will need to be broken down into smaller parts over multiple days.
List out all the steps you need to take to complete this project like, “buy a domain name” and “connect email service.” Then decide in what order you need to do things and block time for when you’ll do them.
For more on how to break down a plan into steps over a 30, 60, and 90-day period learn how to create an action plan
Most importantly reward yourself when you get things done. In fact, when you plan the reward before starting the task, it motivates you even more to complete it.
Rewards can be anything from letting yourself have your favorite food, enjoying a glass of wine, or doing some online shopping. The bigger the task, the better the reward should be.