Once you become a new parent you’ll notice that your to-do list seems to grow from 5 to 500, with more and more tasks piling up and less and less tasks getting done. Today I came across an old to-do list I had from before Boogie arrived and I couldn’t believe how much I was able to get done. That’s because I had more time on my hands to complete tasks back then. Now it’s all about working around Boogie’s schedule, and because of that my current to-do list is a mile long.
About a couple of weeks ago, I came across this post by Lisa C where she explained how she has a hard time with her to-do list also. And she’s not the only one, as a few other people left comments saying the same thing. So I want to share some tips on creating, managing, and completing a to-do list. These are tips I learned myself over the past couple of years. They may not work for everyone, but if I help even just one person better manage their to-do list, then my goal will be met.
To clarify, this post won’t be so much about how to get a to-do list done when you have children to look after; it’s going to be about simply getting a to-do list done period. Getting a to-do list done when you have children to worry about may be something I’ll touch on in the future… that is, once I learn how it’s done!
Creating Your To-Do List
The first step to managing a to-do list is of course creating one, and there’s two ways to do that. There’s the tradition way, where a list of tasks that need to be done are written down on a piece of paper and tacked on a bulletin board or a refrigerator. And there’s the modern way, where the to-do list is stored on a computer by way of desktop or web application. Personally, I use both.
My main to-do list I keep stored on the desktop of my laptop. I use Rainlendar, which is a free desktop application that includes a calendar to keep track of events and a to-do list to keep track of tasks. I have been using Rainlendar for over two years now, and it has worked wonders with helping me keep tasks and events organized. I keep it visible on my desktop so it’s the first thing I see when I turn on my laptop in the morning.
My secondary to-do list I keep on a dry erase board on my refrigerator. I only put urgent tasks that need be done there. This way, if something ever happens to my laptop, I still know the important tasks that need to be completed. And it also helps that I eat about 50 times a day, so I’m reminded of these tasks every time.
Before I continue, I want to say that I prefer digital (computer, internet, cell phone, etc.) based to-do lists over traditional handwritten to-do lists. The benefits of digital to-do lists far outweigh the benefits of handwritten to-do lists, most notably them being way easier to manage and organize. Other people may beg to differ, but that’s just my personal opinion.
Although I personally recommend Rainlendar, there are many other desktop-based and web-based applications that can help you manage your to-do list. Here are some free web-based to-do list managers:
And here are some free desktop-based to-do list managers:
(I haven’t used any of these to-do list managers, so I can’t personally vouch for them.)
Once you have your blank to-do list in front of you, you’re ready to start listing the tasks that need to be completed. List every single task you can think of, no matter how urgent or important. It doesn’t matter what order they’re in right now, just focus on getting every undone task written down. Once you have all of your tasks listed, you’re ready to start managing your to-do list.
Managing Your To-Do List
Now that you have all of your tasks written down, it’s time to start organizing them. I organize my to-do list in two ways; first by group, then by priority.
Group like tasks together. I organize all of my tasks into two groups; Life and Computer. Tasks dealing with everyday life such as mailing a package, making a phone call, and changing a tire on the car, go in the Life group. Tasks dealing with my computer such as organizing my desktop, sending an e-mail, and finishing a post, go in the Computer group. I then take it a step further by grouping like tasks together within each group. For example, if I have to go to the bank and go to the post office, I’ll put those two tasks one after the other depending on priority. That way I can knock out these two tasks while I’m out, instead of going out to complete one task, coming back home, then having to go back out later to complete the second task.
Prioritize; most important tasks first, least important tasks last. Once I have my tasks separated into groups, I prioritize them by the amount of time by which I want/need to complete them. I put tasks that I want to complete within the next 24 hours first, then the tasks that I want to complete within the next few days, then the next week, next two weeks, and so on. I even have tasks I give myself a year to complete. I call these tasks the long-term tasks because they’re not really urgent or important and typically take quite a bit of time, work, and/or money to complete. I work at these tasks little by little whenever I don’t have urgent tasks to complete.
Now that you’ve organized your to-do list, it’s time for the final and most important step!
Completing Your To-Do List
Now it’s time for the (seemingly) hard part! You’ve got your tasks organized and looking all pretty, but now it’s time to eliminate them! I was proud the first time I organized all of the tasks on my to-do list. I was even prouder when my to-do was empty! So now let’s work on getting yours empty!
Pick 3, and I’m not talking about the lotto! One mistake I used to make is I’d look at my to-do list of 50+ unfinished tasks and I’d start to feel overwhelmed. I felt that there was so much to do and so little time. That ultimately led to procrastination, which led to nothing on my to-do list getting done. Now I just pick 3 tasks that I want to complete for the day and don’t worry about the rest. I focus only on these 3 tasks and getting them done for the day. If I finish these 3 tasks before the day is over, I either relax for the rest of the day, reward myself in some way, or move on to another set of 3 tasks. If I don’t finish these 3 tasks before the day is over, I simply pick up where I left off the next day. This way, I don’t feel overwhelmed because I see only 3 tasks needing to be done for the day instead of 50. You may want to give yourself more or less tasks to complete for the day, depending on how busy your life is and the nature of your incomplete tasks. At the beginning of each day, go over your to-do list and choose which 3 tasks you want to complete for the day. By doing this, you can plan and prepare yourself for the day ahead.
Create a “done list”. Another mistake I used to make is whenever I’d complete a task, I’d delete it, and it was never to be seen again. You’d think that was a good thing, but now what do I have? A list of more tasks that need to be completed. So what I did was create a “done list” where I list all of the tasks that I have completed. Whenever I feel as if I have a lot to do, I open my done list and bask in all of the completed tasks. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and motivation to make that list grow bigger.
So what do you think? Could these tips help you better manage your to-do list? Do you already use some of these methods? What are some different methods you use to manage your to-do list and complete daily tasks?