To Do: Lists

Yesterday we covered the amazing art of reclaiming your time, carving out time to waste, and getting the most out of your day. Amidst this blog piece, there was the phrase “Milking every ounce of success out of the time you have already set aside”. I didn’t explain how to do that. I know. Maybe I left you frustrated, wondering how to do what I said. Worse, maybe you’ve been working on using your time wisely and can’t figure out how to fit everything into your day.

Fortunately, there is a way to help us organize our time. And it’s not an organizer. It’s a simple to-do list.

hated the idea of a to-do list at first. I didn’t want to be that person. Checking things off, head buried in an organizer, writing things down just to check them off. No, thank you. It seemed unhealthy and obsessive to me. I did not want to those things. I’m unhealthy and obsessive enough as is, thank you very much.

Regardless, I ended up giving it a try. And it didn’t work.

I’m nothing if not persistent, so I tried again. This time, I remodeled my structure of the to-do list. Well, it didn’t work…again.

So I tried again. And again. And again. It took me nearly 10 tries to get where I am now with this list. This list structure I’m using now is finally successful, though I’m sure it’ll have to adjust sooner or later.

The point here is that to-do lists are helpful…if they are formatted to your life. If they’re just the first thing you read online, they aren’t going to help you. They might make things worse. So, I won’t tell you what my list looks like (no matter how hard you beg). I’ll only tell you the components of making a good one.


Before we dive into the dirty details of how to build a successful to-do list, let’s take a minute and examine why we can all benefit from a to-do list.

postit-scrabble-to-do

  1. Never too much organization

Let’s be honest, none of us have our lives perfectly organized AND if we do, more organization can’t hurt us!

2. It helps our memory

Is our memory perfect? No. At least, not many people have a perfect memory. Writing things down a to-do list solidifies them in your memory and in reality. When you look at the stuff you need to get done this week, tomorrow, or today, you’ll see that meeting you almost forgot.

3. It helps you manage your time

If you have a list next to you, in front of you, around you, in existence then you’ll have a gameplan for every day. Especially for artists and writers like myself, it can be hard to keep track of everything you’re doing and want to get done. Having a set to-do list takes the thinking out of it. You can look over, start at the top, and keep going down the list. Bam, bam, bam, done.

4. It keeps you on track

Personally, I feel like if I know exactly what I want to do in a day and the amount of time I want to get it done in, I’ll be more efficient. If I’m not exactly sure, there’s room to dawdle and get lost on the internet. As well, if you know what you need to do and do it, you’ll have solid accomplishments.


Enough of that. We know why we should make a to-do list, now. But the real question remains. How?

Since we’re talking about to-do lists, I’m offering a nice do’s and don’ts list.

Do write what you need to get done in a day.

Don’t write down everything.

Don’t pencil in relaxing.

Do pencil in exercise or things you really need to focus on in your life (the key word is need).

Do go ahead and write when you would like to be done that day at the top of your list (that way you can see it first and foremost).

Don’t overbook yourself. Be realistic about what you can actually get done. This might mean projects take more time. That’s okay.

Do set aside the same time every week to write your list. I suggest writing them on a week by week basis.

Don’t let the list take over your life. Not everything is something that needs to be checked off.

Do color coordinate. Exercise is teal, chores are brown, writing is pink, etc.

And something that isn’t a do or don’t: Understand there are days you won’t accomplish everything.

That’s okay.

Don’t go crazy and cut into your relaxing time because you didn’t finish everything you wanted to.

Do shake it off and plan on finishing it tomorrow and working harder then.

Those are a few of the components of a good to-do list. It’s important to write them around our life and play with different structures. There will be discouraging moments. There will be turmoil and struggle. But it is worth it.

It is also worth it to note that there will be an adjustment period when you first transition to trying to manage your time more efficiently by using to-do lists. If you are not accustomed to using them it’s impossible to know how much stuff you can jam into a day. If you’re finishing too early, add more. If you are leaving too many unchecked boxes, cut down. If you feel overworked, take some out. The idea to play with it enough to find a healthy balance in your work life and to be efficient at what you do.

As well, I suggest leaving a day or two a week completely open of obligations. I leave the majority of my weekends completely open so that I can do whatever I like. This doesn’t mean that I slack off or don’t do any writing (I’m a writer if you didn’t know). It just means that I get to do what I want to do and when I want to do it.

Free yourself up by tying down your days with to-do lists. You’ll get more done, you’ll feel better, and you’ll have time that you can waste.

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