Keeping a to-do list is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
It serves as a reminder to get something done in case you forget. It gives you a target of stuff to settle before the end of the day. And most importantly, it makes you feel good about how you have spent your time… giving you a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue the healthy habit.
Are you ready to move on to the next level?
To get even more effective on how you manage time, I suggest that you work with 3 types of list.
1) Master to-do list
As the name suggest, this is a master list of everything you want to get done. It should include things that need your immediate attention and everything else that requires later attention.
Just list everything down and rank them by the level of priority they deserve.
Don’t be embarrassed about listing micro tasks too. Nobody will be able to see your list and judge you.
As our commitments and priorities change daily, don’t be afraid to add, edit, and delete items from this list on a daily basis. It is supposed to be dynamic.
2) Today to-do list
Because this list is a subset of the master list, every item found here should be in the master list too. Just that the items here require your attention in completing today.
Every night before bed or every morning before you start the day, you should pull out this list and plan how you are going to complete all the task by the end of the day.
Planning can greatly help you be more efficient in execution.
For example, if you need to pick up some documents in the city, you might be able to pick up the doggie treat from the pet shop on the way. Squeezing personal errands into work is one of the hallmarks of a great time manager.
And if it’s a day of running errands, make sure to group tasks around geography. This could mean that you might want to do some of the task belonging in the master list even though they do not belong to the today list.
For example, if you can predict that you shampoo would be running out in about a month, there’s no harm picking them up today since you would be going to the supermarket to complete some of the jobs on the today list.
3) Later to-do list
This list will contain activities that you know you need to do sooner or later. But since there is no emergency situation to do them now, you can wait for at least a few days or for as long as you feel like it.
While go through your master list and exporting items into the today list, you might find that a some of the remaining items on the master list can actually only be done some time later.
Sometimes there are things that we are unable to do until a later date. Situations like this include:
- Needing to meet someone who is out of town
- Needing to visit a store that is closed for the next 2 weeks
- Needing to attend an annual sales event that is coming in a month
- Needing to wait for 4 weeks before bringing your dog to the vet for vaccination
It might help if you enter these items into your monthly or annual planner as well.
7 Tips for creating and managing to-do lists
Even though keeping a list has been practice followed by everyone from professionals to the regular person, many still don’t know how to optimize this habit. Here are some tips.
1) Don’t go crazy with it
Sometimes, some people feel that having a long list is something to boast about because… it makes them seem busy.
For example, I can tell that some colleagues actually break down a never ending list on their smart devices and reveal a smirk whenever someone else manages to catch a glimpse of it.
They then give the “I’m a busy person” look.
I hope that won’t be you.
Using a to-do list is a way to organize your life. Not something used for social approval.
2) Don’t include things that you won’t forget
While I did mention to list all the stuff you need to do in your list, please practice a little mindfulness.
For example if you wake up everyday at 7am, you don’t need to write that down. Or if you always take the subway at 8am, you don’t have to key that into your planner too.
To-do list is not just a way to keep you on track. It is supposedly a technique to remind you of task that you might forget too.
So if there are things that don’t need reminders, exclude them.
3) Definitely do the highest priority task first
You might want to give all your task a number of between 1 to 3 with 3 being of the highest importance or most difficult.
Always do the most important assignments first. Or else you might frequently find that you don’t have enough time to complete them at the end of the day.
4) Plan your time
There would always be times during the day when you are more opportunity to be focused or otherwise.
For example, for me,
- the hour before official office hours start always seem to be calm.
- The time between commencement of office hours to lunch time always seem to be about internal meetings and communications.
- The time from after lunch till late afternoon tend to be chaotic.
- Starting from about an hour or 2 before official knock-off things start to calm down with peace and quiet again.
- Night time after 9pm tend to be the most relaxed and best for creative work
Take note of your schedules as well. And plan properly on which timings are best for completing certain tasks.
5) Be realistic
Just because you list down a hundred tasks to do during the day does not mean that you are going to check off every one of them.
Be reasonable with yourself. The more items you are unable to strike off your list, the more demotivated you might get. And that can plant a thought into your mind that being average is perfectly fine.
That’s not how you’d want to approach your personal growth.
6) Break tedious task into smaller parts
If a certain activity seem to daunting to complete in one day, it is perfectly alright to acknowledge that. Break it up into 3 or even 5 days.
7) Make resting part of your to-do list
While we dream about going through our work or personal commitments like a machine in a factory production line, a reasonable individual should be able to recognize that that is not always possible.
Give yourself a break. Better yet. FORCE yourself to take breaks. You deserve it. Input break times into your to-do list.
As you can probably tell from my writing, I take to-do lists seriously. But to really gain traction on this technique to manage time, you will need to recognize how to manage and execute it properly.
How you intend to do that is a question you need to ask yourself.