I’ve been a to-do lister for most of my life. In elementary school, my friend and I would make lists of all the things we wanted to accomplish during our sleep-overs. Just after college, I was so fed up with so many large parts of my life that I created a giant to-do list that read: “Get a new job. Get a new car. Go on vacation.” in big, bold letters, which hung over my bed, reminding me every day of my ultimate goals. They were all completed within five months. I like a good to-do list.
As a Director of Content & Social Media, my days are filled with what seems like hundreds of small, must-complete tasks, and at first, I had a hard time keeping all of them straight. Everything seemed like something that ought to be done that day, which made for one extremely long, and quite frankly, useless, to-do list. Out of necessity, I devised a to-do list system that has worked extremely well every since.
Here are my best tips for creating a to-do list you’ll actually want to tackle:
Focus on the short-term.
For most professionals, a to-do list that focuses on the next two weeks works best. Anything longer than that becomes more of a “goal” than a to-do item.
Organize your list in a simple way.
A long list of items is never going to get completed. Mine is divided into very literal sections: Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and Next Week. It’s easy to understand, and easy to update.
Use a computer-based list.
I use Google Desktop to manage my to-do list. The application is constantly running so it’s always visible on the side of my monitor, and I can refer to it often to keep myself on track. Even though it’s more fun to literally cross items off your list on a piece of paper, a list on your computer is easier to update every day, moving tasks from Tomorrow to Today, and so on. Notepad, Google Docs, or even an open e-mail draft are all good options. (Ed: Alternatively use one of these computer based lists)
Emphasize each specific task, rather than overall goals.
Rather than stating the obvious, “Write blog posts for next week,” I get very specific with myself: “Write posts on 4 Resume Tips, 3 Phone Interview Don’ts, A Day in the Life of a Telecommuter.” Rather than seeing one big goal and becoming intimidated, I see three smaller goals that are already outlined and easily doable.
Archive items as you complete them.
As any good to-do lister knows, the best part of the do-list is the crossing off of completed tasks. Such a sweet feeling of accomplishment!
Update your entire list every day.
Either at the end of your work day, or at the very beginning, rearrange your list by updating what needs to be done Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and Next Week. I prefer to update my list at the end of each day to take stock in my accomplishments and plot my workload for the following day. And without fail, every day I find myself wanting to tackle my to-do list!