After reading Patrick Rhone’s advice to get items I will never complete off my to-do lists, I decided to do a thorough evaluation of all my lists. Not only were my to-do lists filled with things that I’m certain I won’t do, I was surprised by how many things I will do and want to do that have never made it onto my lists.
The reason to keep lists is to get tasks out of your head and onto paper. Simply writing down (or typing into a computer application) all the things you have to do, you can better manage your schedule, your stress level, and all of your tasks. You can make a giant to-do list with work and personal items all on one list. You can make multiple lists based on where you complete the work (at your computer, in the car, etc.). You can make lists based on a timeline (today, this month, this year). You can make lists in whatever way you choose, as long as the method you pick is something you’ll consistently use.
After evaluating my lists, I realized it was time to makeover my method for compiling information. I’m clearly not capturing information as best as I can to meet my needs. For my list overhaul, I took the following steps to get things in order:
- Walk through. Grab a pad of paper and a pen and visit every corner of space in your life. At work, open each drawer, scan every shelf, and inspect every surface for reminders of things you need to do. At home, walk through every room, open every closet, and inspect every area for reminders there. Get in your car. Walk around the outside of your house. Read emails, memos, and notes from friends to put together your list.
- Be realistic. Review your list and instantly cross off anything you know you will never complete.
- Compare. Pull out your previous to-do list and compare it to the new one you just made. Did you forget anything that needs to be added to the new list?
- Create. Based on whatever method you are most likely to use, separate your master list into smaller lists. As you work, be sure to prioritize tasks you must get done immediately. You may prioritize items with highlighters or a letter ranking (A, B, C) or a giant asterisk next to your most important action. Also, be sure to use specific and active language when putting items on your list. “The car” is not specific nor active, but “Throw away trash in car” is specific and active.
- Schedule. All to-do items with a deadline should be immediately scheduled on your calendar. Be sure to schedule time to work on the item on your schedule and not only the deadline.
- Work. Take care of the things on your schedule for the day.
- Review. At the end of each day, review your lists and cross off all the items you completed, make sure you have added all new items to your list, and schedule tasks from the to-do list onto your calendar. Each morning, review your plan for the day and make necessary adjustments. Also, evaluate your to-do list methods every three or four months to determine if your lists and working as best as they can for you. (This review step is clearly where my previous method broke down.)
Do your to-do lists need an overhaul? Is it time you started a list (or two or three) of the things you need to do? Reduce your stress levels and get your lists made and in order.