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Make a To-do List You’ll Actually Want to Tackle

Make a To-do List You’ll Actually Want to Tackle

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.

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nothing is so fatiguing 2

    Here are my best tips for creating a to-do list you’ll actually want to tackle:

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    Brie Weiler Reynolds

    Senior Career Specialist at FlexJobs

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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