Yesterday we talked about the importance of having one calendar or planner to record all of your appointments and obligations. Today I’ll talk a little about the second part of the planning/preparing process (say THAT 3 times fast!) in our time management discussion – the To-Do List.
There are really two kinds of to-do lists – a master to-do list and a daily to-do list. Things that would be on your master to-do list are large scale or long term projects that can be broken down into smaller steps, for instance, painting the living room. As a single to-do, it is overwhelming but when broken down into its smaller components, it’s not so bad. For example, your smaller steps that will eventually migrate to your daily to-do list might be:
2) Look at paint samples in living room
3) Decide on paint color
4) Review painting supplies and decide if new supplies are needed
5) Visit home store to buy paint and other necessary supplies
6) Decide when you will do the painting and schedule it on your calendar
7) On day of painting, move furniture away from walls getting help as needed
8) Clean walls and woodwork as necessary
9) Lay down drop clothes
11) Repeat #10 as necessary
12) Clean & store painting supplies
13) Return furniture to original position
See, it’s not so overwhelming if you can focus on just 1 part of the entire process at a time. Small bites are always more easily digestible than huge gulps!
The second type of to-do list you will utilize is your daily to-do list. This is the list you reference every day (hopefully) to get what needs to be done, done - in other words the tasks of daily life (Buy milk, make doctor’s appointment, send present to sister) in addition to those smaller bites of your master to-do list. That being said your daily to-do list should not be 500 lines long!! That is just too much and you will feel overwhelmed and defeated before you even begin. Productivity experts have various techniques to keep your to-do lists under control. One way is to have no more than 7 items on your list every day. Seven seems to be a magic number; when you go over that, the craziness sets in! Another technique is to use a sticky note for your to-do list. If your list doesn’t fit on the note, the activities can’t fit in your life!
Once you figure out what needs to be done, figure out how long it will take you to do it and schedule in them in your planner. This is a very important part of the process. It allows you to focus on what is important to accomplish today, leaving other items to be done on another day. One easy way to do this is to group like tasks together – spend one hour a day making phone calls, 20 minutes 3x a day checking and responding to email, or plan to run your errands all at one time. This keeps you from having to change gears and it makes you more efficient. One quick note - if things will take two minutes or less to do, consider doing them right away. You waste at least that much time adding them to the list and worrying about them.
I am not saying to pack your day so tight that you don’t have time to take care of emergencies that might come up. Even most strict schedule needs a little flexibility. And a final note, spend 5-15 minutes at the end of each day to plan what you need to accomplish tomorrow – write tomorrow ’s to-do list. That way you can hit the ground running in the morning!