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How to Actually Get Things Done with Your To-do List

How to Actually Get Things Done with Your To-do List

For the original unedited article, visit Greatist.

Now that the sparkly ball has long since hit the ground, we’re supposedly off and running on those New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, between work, family, and other real-life obligations, achieving our goals is almost always harder than it seems. But the problem may have started way back in 2012, when we first jotted down those goals on a piece of loose leaf or a dirty bar napkin. Creating an efficient to-do list is a feat in itself, and that’s where we come in. We’ve prepared 13 tips to help you organize your life into a manageable list, then cross off each entry in time to make some new resolutions for next year.

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TO DO OR NOT TO DO — THE NEED-TO-KNOW

List-making is a pretty personal thing. Some of us border on obsessive, organizing even our bathroom runs into a series of numbered bullet points. Others prefer to wing it, writing important telephone numbers on the backs of their hands. But even the most basic outline of must-do tasks can help us tackle our most important goals. For one thing, writing out a bunch of to-do’s forces us to set concrete goals (take out the trash), which can be way more effective than just thinking about vague objectives (get cleaner). Plus, making a written list can help us remember important information (meaning that trash won’t sit waiting in the kitchen for weeks).

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The problem is that even those of us who believe fervently in the power of to-do lists might not know how to make a successful one. Luckily Greatist is here to help, with a step-by-step guide to creating — and completing — an awesome list of stuff to get done.

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JUST TO-DO IT — YOUR ACTION PLAN

  • Pick a medium. To-do lists come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s all about what works for the individual. Some research suggests writing information by hand helps us remember it better, but if you last picked up a pen in 1995, fear not: There’s a huge range of digital apps that help create personal to-do lists.
  • Make multiples. Create a few lists of stuff that needs to get done. One should be a master list, with every item you’d like to accomplish in the long-term: Clean out the closet, sign up for a language class, etc. Another can be a weekly project list, with everything that needs to take place in the next seven days. The third should be a HIT (that’s high-impact tasks) list, with the tasks that need to get done today: Call Aunt Sue for her birthday, pick up the dry cleaning, finish that presentation for work. Every day, see which items from the master list and weekly project list should move to the HIT list.
  • Keep it simple. There’s nothing more intimidating than a mile-long to-do list. And, realistically, it’s impossible to get that much stuff done in 24 hours anyway. One trick for keeping a HIT list simple is to make a list of stuff you want to do today and slice it in half. There shouldn’t be more than 10 items remaining; the rest can go on the weekly projects list or the master list.
  • Meet the MITs. That’s “most important tasks.” Start the list with at least two items that absolutely must get done today, so you don’t end up vacuuming instead of finishing a project report due tomorrow. Even if the rest of the list stays untouched, the really meaningful stuff will get finished.
  • Start easy. Even before those MITs (see above), stick a few simple items on the list. “Fold clothes,” “wash breakfast dishes,” and “shower” are all good examples. Even crossing off silly stuff helps us start the day feeling super-productive.
  • Break it down. Goals such as “work on research paper” are much too vague and intimidating, meaning we’ll be too afraid to actually start tackling them. One way to reduce the fear factor and make goals seem more manageable is to break projects into smaller tasks. Instead of “work on research paper,” try something more specific, such as “write first half of chapter three” on Monday and “write second half of chapter three” on Tuesday.
  • Stay specific. All to-do’s should have these qualities in common: They’re physical actions; they can be finished in one sitting; and they’re tasks that only the to-do-list writer can do. For general projects that require lots of time or other people’s help, list specific steps you can take toward your goal. Instead of “save the animals,” try “write cover letter for internship at World Wildlife Fund.”
  • Include it all. For every task on the list, include as much information as possible so there’s literally no excuse for not getting the job done. For example, if the task involves calling someone, include that person’s phone number on the list so you won’t waste time scrambling for it later.
  • Time it. Now that you’ve made the list (and checked it twice), go back and put a time estimate next to every item. It might even help to turn the to-do list into a kind of schedule with specific times and places. So, for example: laundry 4-6 p.m. at Suds & Stuff, clean out inbox 6-7 p.m. at Starbucks on 6th Ave. When time’s up, it’s up; there’s no spending six hours at the Laundromat.
  • Don’t stress. Every master list has a few tasks on it that we’ve been meaning to do for days, weeks, maybe even years — but haven’t yet. Try to figure out why not in order to learn what steps are necessary for actually completing the task. Not calling Uncle Pat out of fear of getting stuck on the phone for the whole afternoon? Replace “Call Uncle Pat” with “figure out a way to get off the phone with Uncle Pat.” This way the big task will seem easier, and eventually get done.
  • Make it public. Sometimes the best way to stay accountable is to have someone watching over us. Try sharing that to-do list, whether by posting it on the family refrigerator or setting up a digital calendar that everyone on the work team can access.
  • Schedule scheduling. One of the trickiest aspects of the to-do list is actually sitting down to make one. Pick a time every day, whether it’s the morning before everyone else wakes up, the hour right before going to bed, or lunchtime, when you can organize all your tasks and determine what still needs to be accomplished.
  • Go in with the old. One way to boost productivity is to remind ourselves how productive we were yesterday. So keep a written list of everything you accomplished the day before, even the small stuff.
  • Start fresh. Make a new list every day so the same old items don’t clog up the agenda. It’s also a useful way to make sure we actually get something done every 24 hours and don’t just spend time decorating the paper with fancy highlighters.
  • Be flexible. Pro tip: Always leave about 15 minutes of “cushion time” in between items on the to-do list or calendar in case something pops up (say the washing machine overflows or the computer crashes). And if a crisis does strike, the most important thing is to remember to stop and breathe. You’ve probably already accomplished at least one MIT — you’ll get the rest under control!
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Last Updated on September 24, 2020

11 Things You Should Minimize for a Better Life

11 Things You Should Minimize for a Better Life

Ever heard the statement less is more? Is that a reality in your life or is that an area you are struggling with? Below are 11 different areas you can look at in your life to start to reduce as you focus on building a better life.

Let’s get to it:

Your Stuff

I call it stuff vs possessions. Stuff is what adds clutter in your life. It could be shoes, curios from the cute store in your town or excess appliances you need to throw out but never do. What is it that is overtaking your house that if you moved away you wouldn’t need it at all? Plan a Sunday afternoon throw out session. If throwing out doesn’t sit right then give it away to goodwill.

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Your Acquaintances

How many people are you interacting with throughout the week that don’t leave you feeling good about yourself? Who inspires you? Spend time with those people. Too often we keep people in our lives that we are no longer a fit for. Having too many old acquaintances adds to the excess in your life. If the relationship isn’t a win-win for you both then take a step back and focus on those that do.

Your Goals

Motivated to write out your list of goal for the next month or 3 months? That is awesome. Just a few works of caution. Don’t write down too many. Often people write down over ten goals. The brain can only remember so much and the reality is you won’t get to them all. I suggest you look at your goals with the mindset of single digits. No more than ten, but ideally less than five. Keep the list focused and realistic.

Your Commitments

A new favorite buzz saying in the self-help world is “No is the new Yes”. Take a moment to think about that saying. If you started saying no more how would your week and life look? Would you have more time to commit to the important goals and people in your life? Start to practice saying No when a request comes your way that you don’t want to do. If that feels too harsh try responding with these words “Let me get back to you”. Go away and come back with a no when you are in stronger mindset to say that.

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Your Multitasking

I am giving you permission to stop multitasking. We used to be told that multitasking was a good practice. We look so busy and aren’t we getting a lot done? In fact, no. Multitasking isn’t possible with the way our brain is wired. We need to focus on one key thing and keep our attention on that item until it is complete.

Your Newsfeed

I consider all the information from the Internet that is being feed into our smartphone, laptop and brain as “the newsfeed.” It doesn’t add to having more knowledge, it adds to information overload. Build time in your day or week when you are completely offline. I recommend turning your wireless off or setting your smart phone to airplane mode.

Your Cards

Open up your wallet and take a look inside. What is in it? For most of us it is more than one store, charge or loyalty card. Too many cards add to extra spending, bills and lack of clarity of where our money goes. Look at what cards you truly need and use. Get rid of the rest (scissors work!).

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Your Mail

Both the old style (postal) and your email inbox are areas to minimize. Look at ways to get off catalogs or reduce the magazine subscriptions as you never read all of them anyway. Figure out what mail, e.g. bank statements, can be changed to digital mail only. Try the same with your inbox. Sites like unroll.me can tell you how many email newsletters you are subscribed to and you can take your name off the list that you know longer need.

Your Sitting Time

Too much time in front of the screen is not good for the posture and health of your body. Try setting a timer so every 50 minutes you get up and stretch or go for a five minute walk. We don’t realize how bad our posture is when we sit for long periods of time. The studies on sitting disease are what led to standing and walking desks to be invented. If your office doesn’t have that get into a regular habit to stand and walk often in your day.

Too much time by yourself can led the mind to wander. When the mind wanders it will often return with negative thoughts and beliefs. While a walk by yourself and some downtime is rejuvenating take notice if you start to feel un- inspired or a little sad and make sure you aren’t spending too much time in your own company. This is especially important for those of us who work from home. Make sure to have people interaction throughout your day.

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Your Lack of Belief

If you want to make a change or achieve a goal in your life you need to truly, 100 percent believe you can. If you don’t believe in yourself then why should anyone else?

The difference between a successful person and someone struggling can be as simple as a mindset switch to believe that they will succeed.

What areas can you minimize to create more happiness, focus and productivity in your life? Implement just a handful from the list and you will find that the mindset of ‘Less is More’ will be what leads you on the path to a better life!

Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com

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