Why Make a To Do List
You wake up in the morning, drink your cup of coffee and head in to work. You do only what is expected of you and the morning and afternoon pass you by in a haze. By evening, you find yourself back in your car heading home. When it is finally time for bed, you look up at the ceiling, thinking back on your day, and realize you have accomplished nothing.
To do lists are a nudge. They help you get your act together, get things done, and they inspire you to work towards your personal and professional goals.
When to Write Your To Do List
When I wake up in the morning, I am mostly groggy. It isn't until after I get the teenagers off to school and the baby fed and changed that I have a moment to sit down for a breather. This is my moment to prepare my thoughts on which task I am going to complete first, it's not time to figure out what tasks need to be completed.
To make the most of your mornings, write your to do lists the night before. After a long day, you know what needs to be done the next day. Your mind is full of "I must get this done and I didn't have time to get to that." Seize the moment and work on your to do list. When you get up ad moving in the morning, you will have a basic plan or formula for the day to follow and complete your tasks.
Break Big Tasks Into Little Tasks
Sometimes looking at a big task can be self defeating. If you plan on writing a book, for instance, don't put "write a book" on your do to list. Break it down to "Write chapters 1 and 2 of book." When you break huge tasks down into small, obtainable amounts of work, you will be able to complete the tasks. Eventually, you will have your book written, done step by step, and it will be ready for editing.
Add Color to Your To Do List
I like to hand write my to do lists. It keeps the lists personal and forces me to think through my long term goals. One trick I use when working on my to do lists is to keep a red pen by my side. If I am going to write something down that must be completed tomorrow, I write it in red pen. For example, "Vet appt. for cat" is something I must absolutely take care of in the morning. I wrote it in red so that it stands out on my list. "Get carpet cleaned" can wait a few more days so I write it in black or blue pen. The carpet can wait because I am not expecting company any time soon and it doesn't look bad. I can have the carpet cleaners come out on a day when I don't have a lot of work to do.
Keep It Simple
I've been keeping a basic to do list for nearly thirty years. I've tried many methods of making a to do list, from computerized to do lists to prioritized to do lists. I have found that the more complicated my to do lists become, the more time I waste in making them. Time is very precious to me. Keeping my list simple and on plain note cards saves me on time and I still get the same amount of items done as I do using the fancier to do list methods.
What Not to Put on To Do List
Yes, it is fun to be able to scratch things off your list, but let's be realistic. You don't need to write "take a shower" and "brush teeth" on your to do list. You are, hopefully, going to do these things without having them on your list.
Certain things you do each day are habit. Washing, grooming, and picking up after yourself should already be a habit. However, if you are learning a new habit, place it on your list for the first week or two until you have developed the new habit. For example, I needed to start remembering to bring my camera with me everywhere for photograph opportunities. I like to stockpile photos for future articles. In spite of my desire to take more photographs, I would always forget to grab my camera as I headed out the door. To train myself, I started using my to do list as a reminder: "leave house, take camera" was my reminder. After roughly 2 weeks of reading, writing, and remembering this reminder, I was able to train myself to leave the house with my camera. The reminder was then permanently removed from my to do list.