SELF CARE SERIES: HOW TO KNOCK OUT YOUR TO-DO LIST
Do you want me to tell you the secret to always get everything done on your to-do list? Just kidding - I wish there was a magical solution, but sadly there’s not! However, what I can tell you is there are strategies you can use to be more effective in managing your time and to-do list.
While it would be nice if there was one to-do list management method that worked for everyone, I don’t think that’s the case. Ultimately, it’s about testing out different strategies and figuring out what works for you. Trust me - this is a journey that I’m still on as well. It’s something that we all have to constantly figure out each day. Some days it’s easy, and other days it feels impossible.
Alright so I’m gonna share with you my no bells and whistles, frill-free method for getting stuff done. (I actually adopted this method from a former boss I worked with a few years ago.) My method for keeping track of my to-do list is pretty simple - I just use the note section on my iPhone. Since I always have my phone with me, I find it’s the easiest way to keep track of my to-do list. If you’re more of a pen and paper person, by all means keep a notebook with you in your purse or bag.
Generally, I plan out my to-do list on a weekly basis because it’s enough time to move different tasks around, but it’s also not too overwhelming to plan that far in advance. Furthermore, focusing on a broader time frame relieves the pressure I feel if I'm trying to knock everything out in a day. The more pressure I put on myself, the more defeated I tend to feel when tasks don’t get done.
Ready to give it a try for yourself?
First, you write out each day of the week on a new note or piece of paper. Next, you write your to-do items underneath the day of the week. I love this method because it allows you to move tasks around easily and is more simple than trying to put everything on a calendar.
Another thing I typically do is write the same to-do item on multiple days of the week prior to the deadline. For example, if my credit card payment is due on Friday, I’ll write “pay credit card bill” on my to-do list for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That way if I don’t have time to get it done on Wednesday, I still have time later (aka not the end of the world); but I do have a hard deadline of Friday which is indicated on the list.
Also I include when I’m planning to workout on my to-do list. Generally I workout 3-5 times per week and just having it on my list is a great visual reminder.
In short (no pun intended!), using this to-do list method allows me to easily push things off to another week by simply starting a new list. It prevents tasks from totally falling off my plate and forgetting about them. Lastly, best of all once I’m done with a task I simply delete it off my to-do list for a given day which is very gratifying! (Whatever method you end up choosing, definitely find ways to celebrate what you've accomplished!)
Here's a quick video for you guys, so you can see how flexible this method is!
Ok so that’s the logistics of how I keep track of my tasks, but what about motivation to get things done? That is a whole other beast for which I don’t have a perfect answer. However, I can share what generally works for me.
The biggest thing that trips me up and dampens my motivation to do something is not knowing how long it will take. If you are uncertain about how long a task will take, write down a time estimate next to it and then see how long it actually takes you. Then you’ll know in the future what your expectations should be. I do this exercise for small tasks as well, such as calling to schedule a doctor’s appointment or writing an email to a client. When I have a ton of stuff going on, writing down a time estimate helps motivate me to begin the task in the first place. Mentally, I’m like ok this is only going to take me 10 minutes or 15 minutes - I can do this!
One thing I’m currently working on is paying more attention to my energy cycles. In the past I haven't paid as much attention to this, but reading The Personal MBA encouraged me to start paying attention to it. So I’ve been asking myself questions like: “When am I most productive? What type of work do I like doing at a particular time of day? When do I feel least energized?” It’s important to accept and acknowledge that we cannot be productive 100% of the day. I think that all of us are aware of this on some level because you've probably noticed that post-lunch slump where all you want to do is take a nap rather than think about work. So maybe take a walk around the block during that time or work on tasks that are less mentally exhaustive during that time. One example of how I pay attention energy cycles is choosing when to schedule workouts. Most of the time I plan to exercise in the morning because I usually feel an energy boost afterwards that makes it easier to start my day. However, there are some mornings where I can’t seem to stop hitting the snooze button so I’ll push my workout to the evening. My recommendation is you send a few weeks asking yourself these questions and monitoring your energy levels. Once you have some insight about your energy level cadence, you can plan your work and tasks more effectively.
My 5 Tips for Knocking Out Your To-Do List
Keep your to do list with you always
Know what you need to get done now versus what can wait
Monitor your energy levels
Write out time estimates next to tasks
Experiment with different methods & find out what works best for you
Hope these tips were helpful! At the end of the day, I’d recommend testing a couple of different methods and figure out what works best for you. Also be patient with yourself, even if you have a week where you struggle to get stuff done, you might still have a good month for getting stuff done! There are always going to be ebbs and flows in our weeks, so sometimes you just have to ride it out :)
PHOTO CREDIT: KRIS LEIGH PHOTOGRAPHY