Let’s face it — life can get really crazy sometimes, especially when we’re trying to balance work, family, a social life, and whatever other real-world obligations come our way on a daily basis. For that reason it’s vital to understand ways to make a better to-do list, in order to keep us organized, understand what things absolutely need to be completed, and to actually be able to finish them in a timely manner.
It seems like an easy enough thing to do, right? Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and jot down the things we need to get done that day. However, there is really an art to creating the best of the best to-do lists — ones that will truly help us to meet deadlines and ultimately feel less stressed and more accomplished.
I know plenty of people who tell me they never make to-lists because they feel they’re a waste of time. These are the same people I encounter in my life who forget to follow up on emails, or send things when they say they will, or even return phone calls or texts. Their head is always in the clouds, so to say. They live in the moment — which is fine for certain types of work and living situations — but definitely is a challenging way of life for those of us with more regimented jobs and family responsibilities. For those who live for structure, I’ve got you covered in this article. Following some of these tips could be a game-changer for you, as I know they have been for me.
Here are seven ways to make a better to-do list.
1. Consider Quality Vs. Quantity
I am notorious for making extremely long to-do lists. For one, I love the feeling of being able to cross something off the list, so even the little things bring me joy. Secondly, I have a million balls spinning at once all day so without these lengthy lists sometimes I honestly will forget to drop off clothes at the dry cleaner if I don’t write it down.
According to Forbes, a good way to prevent us from bogging down our lists with meaningless items is to remember that by focusing on the big things (quality vs. quantity), we’ll be much more effective at our jobs, and in our broader lives as well. Forbes recommended keeping your list as short as possible, and really weighing a task before considering if you need to write it down. I’m not going to recommend you eliminate a task that you might genuinely forget to do. Rather, if you know every morning you start your day by responding to emails, no need to write that at the top of your list for tomorrow. Try your hardest to focus on the bigger things.
2. Make Your List The Night Before
It’s such a nice feeling waking up and already knowing what you need to accomplish that day, rather than spending the first hour flustered as you respond to emails and scribble a list. To achieve a level of uber-organization, try making your to-do list the night before. This will prevent you from having to waste your energy in the morning figuring out what things need to get done, according to Reader’s Digest. Also, making the list the night before can help calm your mind before you sleep so you’re not waking up in the middle of the night feeling anxiety over little things you might otherwise forget to do the next day.
3. Try To Start The List With The Hardest Task
Have to talk to your boss today about a failed project? Likely you’re completely dreading it, so get it over with at the start of the day. By tackling something difficult first thing you can create a sense of achievement that you’ll take with you for the rest of the day, according to foundr. Also, that hard thing will be done. It will feel so nice. It doesn’t always have to be uncomfortable conversations to start the day, just try to think of which task is going to be most difficult, and move it to the top of the list.
4. From There, Try A Sequential Approach
It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been such a crazy organization freak, but prior to that I used to create to-do lists by writing the day at the top of the page and then jotting down items as they came to my mind, rather than by when they needed to be completed. For a writer, this is a horrible approach because you’re constantly working against deadlines. You need a sequence!
Real Simple suggested a sequential approach to list making that organizes tasks by morning, afternoon, and evening. If you want to make it even more granular, the outlet suggested breaking down whether it will be completed at home, work, or wherever else. Keep our first tip in mind her, though, and try to keep your list of items short and sweet.
5. Include Time Estimates
I have come to live by this tactic mostly becomes it helps me see how many things I can realistically get accomplished in a day, and also because it keeps me motivated to finish assignments in a timely manner. Try adding a time estimate next to each item when you’re creating a list — whether you think it’s going to take you 15 minutes or three hours. Omar Kilani, cofounder of to-do list app Remember The Milk, told Fast Company doing this means “you can make realistic decisions about how much you can really fit into your day.”
6. Try Using An “Other” Section
This tip is a personal recommendation for those like me who despise ending a day without being able to cross every item off their list. I always keep a side list of “Other” items — things that don’t necessarily need to be completed that day, but that I don’t want to lose sight of completely. If I finish my must-do tasks early on a given day, I’ll move to the “Other” section and start ticking those off.
7. Limit The Amount Of Meetings In Your Day
This last one isn’t a tip for writing the list, but rather a way to help ensure you can achieve the items on it. Ever have one of those days where you’ve created an achievable to-do list, as the day goes on you’re pulled into meeting after meeting, then by 5:00 have not been able to complete one of your list items? It happens to us all from time to time.
Where possible, try to limit the amount of meetings in your day. TheMuse.com recommended before you schedule a meeting considering whether the issue could be resolved with an email, phone call, or a quick few minute conversation by the water cooler. If you absolutely need the meeting, try to keep it focused on the fewest number of key agenda items as possible, least number of participants, and the shortest amount of time possible, according to the outlet.
By taking the time in advance to make the right kind of to-do list, you can ultimately be much more productive, deadline-oriented, and overall effective in your work and home life. Take note of these tips, get yourself organized, and start getting things accomplished!