To Do or Not To Do

Ah, the to-do list.  Some people hate them, some people swear by them.  As a Professional Organizer who teaches time management skills, I’ve seen my share of non-effective to-do lists.

Here are some guidelines for creating and following a manageable to-do list.

Keep Only One To-Do List

Some folks keep a to-do list for work and a to-do list for home.   This is a clear case of 1 + 1 = 0.  An effective to-do list should help you to answer the perennial question, “What should I be doing right now?”  Unless there are two of you, having multiple to-do lists will only confound the answer.

Perhaps in the old days when people worked from 9 am to 5 pm and left work behind when they left the office, it was possible to separate one’s life into “business” vs. “home”.  Nowadays, however, we do plenty of work when we are away from the office, just as we must often take care of personal matters during business hours.

Maintaining one to-do list will enable you to make the best use of your time, no matter where you are.

Put Tasks on Your To-Do List, not Projects

Are there items on your to-do list that you avoid because they are too big and scary?  Chances are these items are projects, not tasks.

A task is something that you can do and then cross off your list.  A project, on the other hand, consists of multiple tasks.  For example, “Redecorate the living room”.  This is a multi-step project which has no place on a to-do list.  The first step of that project might be “Buy decorating magazines”.  That’s an item that can be done and crossed off the list.

When you find yourself putting a project on your to-do list, take a separate piece of paper and list all the tasks that make up that project.  Then put the first task on your to-do list, and don’t add any additional tasks until that first one is done.  By tackling it in small pieces, you’ll see yourself progressing on the project without intimidating yourself!

Prioritize Your To-Do List

Faced with a list of tasks, the tendency is to do the shortest and easiest ones first so that you can cross off as many items as possible.  However, at the end of the day you’ll realize you didn’t do anything substantial — just a lot of busy work.

Not all tasks are created equal.  Some items are more important and more timely than others.  To keep yourself on track, prioritize your task list every morning.  If your list is long, then identify the top five items.  If you make it through all of those, then identify the next five.

Rewrite your list every day and reprioritize it, as priorities change from day to day and yesterday’s low priority task could be today’s showstopper.

Next Time . . .

Next week I’ll tackle the burning question of electronic to-do lists vs. paper to-do lists!

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