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Is Your To-Do List a Mess? Try These 6 Steps To Make It Useful Again

Is Your To-Do List a Mess? Try These 6 Steps To Make It Useful Again

Has your to-do list lost its oomph? Is it more overwhelming than effective?

Have no fear!

This article is going to help you make the most of your to-do list so you can make the most of what you want to achieve.

Pick the Right Medium

Whether you use sticky notes or a fancy app on your smart phone, there’s no wrong medium. It is important, however, that you pick the medium that’s right for you. Lacey M. of Falmouth, MA is a veteran Post-It Note list maker but when she’s on the go, she uses ColorNote, an iPhone app.

Begin With the End in Mind

What’s your desired end state? Is there something you want to achieve or accomplish? If you have no end result in mind your to-do list may look more like a wish list. Think about your desired state for a few minutes. Perhaps you want to write a book or double your income or generate more sales revenue or find five new clients.

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Break it Down

With your end result clearly stated, what tasks or steps are necessary to help you move forward? Write them down in order of priority. For example, if your end result is to write a book, your high level to-do list may look something like this:

  1. Create a chapter outline
  2. Create 3-5 points to cover for each chapter
  3. Create a time plan
  4. Find an accountability partner
  5. Complete first draft
  6. Edit book
  7. Revise book
  8. Decide how to publish book
  9. Traditional publishing – create and send out query letters
  10. Self publishing – determine publishing platform
  11. Publish book
  12. Celebrate

Find a To-Do List System

You may have multiple to-do lists. That’s okay. Most of us do. Finding a to-do list system that works for you is a key ingredient that helps you manage your to-do’s rather than having your to-do’s manage you.

Timothy Barchard, 7th degree black belt and owner of a Professional Martial Arts Academy, uses the PAR3 system and on a daily basis writes down:

  • 3 things he must get done
  • 3 things he should get done
  • 3 things he would like to get done

“Without it,” Barchard states, “I get nothing done.”

I use Brendon Burchard’s One Page Productivity Planner, which helps me identify:

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  • Top 3 Priorities or Projects for the week
  • 3-5 things that must get done for each project by the end of the week
  • Person she must reach out to during the week
  • People she’s waiting on to deliver or respond to her by the end of the week
  • #1 most important thing that must get done during the week, no matter what

In addition to the one page productivity planner, I prints out my daily calendar for the work week and staple it behind my completed planner. Scheduled meetings must be in alignment with my top 3 priorities for the week. Everything gets done and my to-do list is manageable and do-able.

At work, Laurie M. of Londonderry, NH, divides things into “big rocks” and “little rocks” and she writes them in her daily planner. She explains that “big rocks equal what must get done today. Little rocks equal what she would like to get done today but no fire will be created if it doesn’t get done.”

Cross it Off

Most people want to feel productive. I bet you do, too. Crossing off a completed task on your to-do list creates a sense of accomplishment. Maureen M. of Derry, NH loves to “cross things off with a pink highlighter.” Lynn S. of Tewksbury, MA enjoys feeling productive when she crosses things off her to-do list. And some people will add something they did to their to-do list just so they can cross it off.

Stay Focused

One thing that will derail nearly every to-do list is either a lack of focus or your latest and greatest shiny object distraction. One way to regain control of your to-list is to simply fill in the blanks each day:

The most important thing I need to do for my personal life today is

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_______________________________

The most important thing I need to do for my professional life today is

_______________________________

The most important thing I need to do for my social life today is

_______________________________

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The most important thing I need to do for my physical well being today is

_______________________________

The most important thing I need to do for my spiritual life today is

_______________________________

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear what works for you…How do you keep your to-do list from running amok?

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

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 Creating 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

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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