Can’t fall asleep at night because you keep going through your list of to-do’s in your head to make sure you won’t forget anything? Finding your to do list so intimidating that you are paralysed and procrastinate? Don’t fret, there is a way to write a to do list so things get done.
As a time management coach, I’ve observed that people who struggle to complete their to-do’s fall into 3 main categories:
- People who don’t have a to do list and rely on their memory.
- People with a master to do list with pages and pages of to-do’s.
- People with multiple to do lists: part of it in their diary, or a special notebook, or an App on their phone, or a combination of the 3, the rest on lose sheets of paper, post-its, back of envelopes etc.
Whichever category you belong to, you face similar consequences: tasks not completed on time or completely forgotten, lower productivity as time and energy are not necessarily spent on what’s important, people around you at home or at work resenting you for not doing what you’re supposed to do etc. On an emotional level, you feel stressed, overwhelmed and may even suffer from low self-esteem.
Hum… But so how?
The only way to manage your to-do’s is to have one single and consistent location where you capture all your to-do’s. Ideally it should be your diary so you can associate a day and time to each of your to-do’s.
But what qualifies as a to-do?
Anything that takes time to get done. But it has to be specific. It isn’t a project that happens in multiple steps over a period of time e.g. find pre-school for Emma. It can be either internally generated (your own ideas) or externally requested (email, meeting, other people’s requests etc.).
How to increase my chances to do what’s on my to do list?
- Your to-do’s need to start with an action verb such as call, write, review, plan, ask, read etc. Writing “holidays” is not specific enough, you need to rephrase it as “book tickets for Bangkok” or “source a travel guide for Bangkok” etc. so that you don’t have to figure out what it is that you have to do. “Remember to…”, “don’t forget to…” do not qualify as a to-do!
- It has to come with a time estimate so you can evaluate whether your workload is realistic. The more specific you are, the easier it is to estimate how long a task will take.
- Ideally it should be scheduled directly into your diary. To quote time management expert Julie Morgenstern
A task that is not connected to a “when” does not get done.
So how do I start?
Gather all your to-do’s (in whatever form they currently come) and your diary. Pick up one to-do at a time and ask yourself the following questions:
- What exactly needs to be done? Remember to use an action verb.
- How long do I estimate it is going to take?
- What is the deadline for this task?
- Which particular date should I do this?
Once you’ve added the to-do onto your list, get rid of the paper if you can. Otherwise file it.
The idea is for you to plan days with a realistic workload so you feel productive and have a sense of achievement. And for those days when you have more to do than time available, I’ll introduce in a separate post the concept of the 4D’s to help you streamline your workload. In the meantime, check my time management coaching programme. In just three 2-hour sessions, I can help you regain control over your time.