Updated: Feb 12, 2019
Is there a right way and a wrong way to create a to do list? Yes. You’ll know it’s the right way if it works for you and you use it consistently. Below I will outline the 5 steps you need to follow to create a to do list for yourself that lasts.
I will tell you about (and show you) my own to do list. Does that mean it will work for you? It’s a possibility, but it also might not and that’s ok. The hope is that you can use these guidelines to create your own to do list that will work for you alone.
1. Choose your instrument – In order to create a to do list that works, you need to decide on ONE instrument. This is the most important factor. If you like paper, use paper; if you’re all paperless, go ahead and use a list-making app on your phone. What I find when I work with my clients is that they have 78 to-do lists in different notebooks, on their phones, on random pieces of paper, etc.
My go to for my to do list is this Muji spiral notebook. I chose it because the size is small enough to fit in most bags, it has enough pages to last me for a while but not enough to make it heavy, and the fact that it’s spiral makes it easy to rip out the pages, which I do once a day.
2. Method to the Madness – Making a long list of every single thing you have to do is overwhelming and counterproductive. My to-do list is split into 4 segments: top left is personal items that are not incredibly urgent; bottom left is personal items that are urgent – and they are especially urgent if I put an asterisk next to it; the top right is business items that are not especially urgent; and bottom right is business items that are urgent – the asterisk rule applies on this side as well.
There are any number of ways to do this, think about how your life is split up and go from there.
3. Battling the blindness – There are often items on your to-do list that will remain there for weeks and months (and let’s be honest, never get done). In order to combat the inertia, I rewrite my to-do list once a day. Before you clap back at me with ‘that’s a waste of time’, hear me out. This practice – which takes 1 – 2 minutes a day – allows me to reflect on what I’ve done, what I need to do, and sets me up for the next day. It also allows me to recycle the day’s to-do list so that I only have one list on the go at all times.
If you’re paperless, make it a practice to go over your to-do list once a day and make sure that you check off or delete items that have been done.
4. To include or exclude: Where people often get into trouble is by putting too much on a to-do list or not knowing what needs to go on in the first place. My to-do list is not the only place I keep a list. And whereas I will only use paper for my everyday to-do list, my other lists (mostly for long-term items) can be found in my Evernote. I have a long-term to-do list for personal to-do’s, one for business, one for personal finances, one for business finances and one for goals. These are not items I need to look at everyday but I know they’re there and when I have a gap in my schedule, I’ll pull an item from the long-term list onto the short-term list.
5. Schedule it in your calendar – Some items on your to-do list better serve you as an event. If I put work out on my to-do list, it rarely gets done. But if I have it on my calendar on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 6 – 7 am, it’s more likely that it’ll happen. The same goes when you have a couple of hours free, schedule what you want to get done and in what order – knock off a bunch of to dos at the same time.
Bonus anal retentiveness – I use a Paper Mate gel 0.7 blue pen to write and a black Expo whiteboard marker to cross out so that there is a contrast between the two. The Papermate pen is the only pen I use – it’s the one I like best and I got rid of the rest of my pen collection because I realized I would always gravitate towards it no matter what else was available. I use a whiteboard marker instead of a Sharpie because a Sharpie would bleed through the page.
To-do lists are incredibly helpful but as with most things organizationally related, they can also be overwhelming. If you set yourself up in the beginning with a system that works for you, you’re more likely to maintain it moving forward. And if something isn’t working, change it! It doesn’t mean the system is bad, it just means it needs to be tweaked.
Try my tips and tricks above and let me know how it goes! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Instagram @toritheorganizer.
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