An effective to-do list helps you take action on the right priorities at the right time. But if yours leaves you feeling overwhelmed and uninspired, you need to change how you make it.
How do you make a to-do list so it brings a sense of calm and keeps you focused on what matters?
How do you make it work for you instead of against you?
If you find yourself rushing through tasks, worrying about things you’re not doing, or having items linger for weeks or months, you might think that to-do lists don’t work.
Your to-do list didn’t appear by itself. You made it. So maybe the answer is not to stop making to-do lists. Instead, you need to be more intentional and organize it around your real priority or priorities.
Reason #1: You’re using too many mediums or the wrong medium.
Solution: Choose one medium that’s right for you or use the lowest number of organizational task management systems that help you do the things you need to get done.
Reason #2: You have too many things on your to-do list.
Solution: Keep it short and simple. Less is more. Use your weekly planning session to set your daily to-dos.
Reason #3: Your to-do list doesn’t prioritize what really matters.
Solution: Be more selective and intentional when you make your to-do list.If you’re not eager to do a task, ask yourself whether it’s vital for you to personally complete. If it is, stop procrastinating and take action. If it’s not, dump it from your list, delegate the task, or move it to your someday/maybe list.
Reason #4: You define your items too broadly.
Solution: Break down goals and projects into manageable action steps. Divide big tasks into smaller sub-tasks that are actionable.
Reason #5: You have too many micro steps.
Solution: Switch to macro steps. Tasks like clean the office, write blog post, and prepare notes for podcast episode are macro. You don’t always need to break up projects into small steps. Even though it works to make big changes in small steps, you start with tiny only when it’s necessary to gain traction.
When created without much thought, your to-do list can make it hard to execute on important tasks or steer you toward low leverage tasks. But when made with intention, your to-do list can help you stay on track, get organized around your priorities, channel your attention, and make steady progress on what matters.
- David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- The Incrementalist podcast, Ep. 8, How to Plan Your Ideal Week
- The Inrementalist podcast, Ep. 9, Why Weekly Planning Works
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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.