Keeping a to-do list keeps me focused. I would be a mess without my to-do list. But this isn’t just any list! Nope! You don’t just need help remembering to buy oranges or go to the optometrist. You also need strategies for creating the life you want. The life of your dreams. That starts by starting and maintaining a meaningful to-do list. This singular practice has changed my life, increased my productivity and taken away that middle of the night anxiety. Specifically, you need five ways to create a to-do list to improve your success and enhance your future.
My list helps you focus your energy and manage your time so that you can build the life you want! It starts with small tasks, but completing those frees up time to tackle bigger goals. This list helps you remember everything, while stressing less, and feeling less anxious, depressed, frazzled and overwhelmed. Gain peace of mind once and for all. And if you want to hear more, listen to how I break it down (and then some) in this podcast.
Your New To-Do Mantra
“Only add what must be done.”
As it relates to your to-do list, remember the phrase, “Only what must be done today.”
Here’s why this phrase become your lifeline. Oftentimes people get excited about organization. The thought of becoming more efficient and having purpose each day is inspiring! Many begin the to-do list journey by creating a list and checking things off, only to start adding way too much. And then, disappointment sets in. You see, your to-do list is just like a diet. Crash diets don’t work. Gradually improving your habits does. You can’t accomplish the 75 hours worth of projects you’ve had on the back burner the first week of creating a to-do list. Moderation. Practice the art of editing your list! Editing your list down to only what MUST be done today will ensure your success.
I promise you will be so pumped up the first time they blow through everything on your to-do list that the next day you will be very tempted to add 30 more tasks. Resist! Never add more than what must be done that day. The remainder of your tasks stay on your “This week” or “This quarter” list and they are there for the pickins should you crush your list in record time!
Edit down your list. Remove the item you added today that honestly, you’d love to get to, but you and I both know the likelihood is slim and you have more important fish to fry. Build in some wiggle room. Double the time you estimate most tasks will take. This will ensure your success and create a habit that builds confidence and momentum for the days ahead.
The List is your Focus
Here are the five essential steps to building and maintaining the ultimate to-do list. If you follow these steps for two weeks, your life will change. I promise. But you have to do them all, and you have to commit to making it a habit. Ready?
1. Make your to-do list at the same time every day
I make mine at 7 a.m. every morning, after my workout and before I enter the house and tackle the morning rush of getting everyone out the door for school and work. The time you make the list must be non-negotiable. If I waited until I walked into the house, I would be distracted by phone calls or other people’s needs. A news story might catch my attention or I might get involved in a conversation. No. The list-making most occur at the same time every day and become part of your routine, like brushing your teeth. I admire those who make their lists before bed. They sleep with peace of mind.
2. Write it in something meaningful
I know most of us have made to-do lists before. We put them on post-it notes or in our calendars. They go on scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes. This doesn’t work. How much value do you attribute to the crumpled grocery list in your pocket? Not much, right? Keep the to-do list easy to find and accessible! Use a pretty notebook (or my favorite, a Push Journal), or something you enjoy writing in.
3. Keep your list with you at all times
I am going to suggest that you use your smartphone and task software to manage your to-do list. When are you ever without your phone? Don’t be afraid of the technology! It takes only an hour tops to learn, but the payoffs are managing your life in a meaningful way. I check my list constantly. And, even more exciting – I add to it. If you ask me to send me the number of my babysitter, I simply add that to my list. I won’t forget. It keeps me accountable and takes it off my mind so I can focus.
It doesn’t matter which smartphone you use, just learn to use the task software. The tasks that you haven’t completed will scroll over to the next day. There is no way you’re going to forget! Absolutely everything I need to do goes on my list. There is nothing too big or too small. If I need to call my sister, it goes on my list. Return a dress, on the list. Call the vet, on the list. Put the people you need to connect with on the list. If there is someone you want to get to know better, or a call you need to make, put that on your list. Use the list to make yourself the kind of person you want to be. It’s a prescription for success. When you want to do something and write it down, eventually you DO IT and then check it off your list. Before you know it, you will be making progress like you never imagined.
4. You need to put three small steps that move you forward on your list every day
This is a critical piece of the to-do list. Now, you have scheduled your dental appointments, sent the birthday cards and returned phone calls. Your life is chugging along smoothly. Let’s be sure it’s moving forward in the direction you want it to go! Now you need three steps that move you forward towards achieving your BIG dreams.
Think about what you want to achieve in life. Don’t put these on a vision board and hope they materialize. Make continual progress towards the realization of your dreams. You need a strategy, and it doesn’t have to be huge. Know where you are headed, and take small but meaningful steps to get there. Connect with a mentor, take the next step in achieving a goal, make a call you are afraid to make, sign up for that course, build the website, get started on your social media campaign – and then break those goals into small doable steps achievable today! Walking for 30 minutes is a great way to get started on a big goal of getting back in shape. There is no reason to wait – do it now! Put it on your list and then check it off. Take some time to reflect on what your life goals are, and then start on them by taking three small steps a day. Imagine how that is going to change your life. This isn’t about hope. Action creates results. Motion begets motion.
5. Review and revisit the list
You have heard about positive thinking and how our thoughts create our reality. This is a way to cultivate positive and meaningful thoughts. Note your progress! At the end of the week, you have made 21 small steps towards your bigger life-goals. Your life is in order, the kids permission slips were signed, and you had lunch with your grandmother. You called back the clients who had questions. The fridge is stocked with apples. It’s easy to see how good things are when you have a written record. You don’t need to rely on natural optimism. These results are black and white. And you’ve documented them in a list and with a strikethrough line. You are making progress towards huge life-changing goals, as well as meeting the requirements of every-day life. Take a minute to reflect on your progress and to see yourself actively changing your life every day. Talk about power!
I know I don’t need to tell you this – but you can start right now! Get out your phone and begin. Keep it up until it becomes a habit.
Want some more productivity hacks? Check out a whole bunch of my favorite podcasts in the subject here.
Comment below when you give a REAL to-do list a try!