To Do Lists Are Your Friend

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Life is short and we all have different opinions on how to make the most of it.  Constantly faced with choices on how to spend our time, if we aren’t selective, we risk the added stress of an unduly packed schedule.  Striking a balance between what we have to do and what we want to do can be difficult.  But, there is no question that a good system for managing all your “to do’s”, will maximize your time to pursue the things you enjoy.  

Unless you have an impeccable memory, which is highly doubtful, “to do” lists are a must. Without them, tasks fall through the cracks, your efforts are scattered, productivity suffers and stress results from having to deal with incomplete tasks more emergently.  There are several effective ways to group and store your “to do’s”, but rest assured, that one of them, is not having tons of small scraps of  paper all over the place!  Step one has to be developing a unified list, in one place.

There is no single answer on how to sort your tasks, which will depend on your own personal preferences.  Some group them by urgency, into categories such as now, soon and later.  Others (myself included), prefer to divide tasks into categories.  My own categories include work, at home, errands, calls, family and TODAY.  Although not technically “to do’s”, I also keep categories for ideas and pending items, which I find helpful.  A list of pending items, allows me to easily determine what follow ups may be necessary. You may prefer narrower categories, such as chores, computer work, projects and correspondence. Additional categories may be considered, such as weekly and monthly (for repetitive items) and future, for tasks you can put on the back burner for now.

Once you determine your list categories, you’ll need to develop a game plan on how
best to manage these lists.  To that end, here are some tips you may find useful:

Daily list review: Take 5 minutes each day to review your lists, decide on your priorities and what you can fit into your schedule for the following day.  When you devote  a few minutes to ponder tomorrow, you may discover ways to multitask and save time, by knocking off a few items on your list, since you will already be in the area to accomplish them.  Planning saves time! With a plan of attack, you may find you are less easily distracted than when you are flying by the seat of your pants.

Create your TODAY list (for tomorrow): This will consist of your scheduled calendar events and anything else from your to do list of an urgent nature or that you will likely complete.

Include a priority status for each to do list item: When creating your various lists, include a 1, 2 or 3, to represent the level of importance/priority the task should be given.  This cuts down on the time needed to review your lists for the following day.  If your schedule is tight, just look at the tasks labeled 1.  If you are using paper lists, consider writing these numbers in pencil, so you can change the numbers as things evolve and move up the ladder of importance.

Improve your time estimating skills: Include a time estimate for each item on your to do list, so when planning for tomorrow, you won’t consider items that are more time consuming than the time you have available.  As you complete items on your list, note how close your time estimate was, to improve your estimating skills.  Don’t know where your time is going?  Try keeping a time log of start and end times for a week and you will have your answer.

Where to house your lists: Smart phones have great applications for to do lists, where you can easily create your own list categories and keep your lists nice, tidy and legible.  I use one I love called Just Task.  When items are completed, with a click, it vanishes.  Voila, no more writing and rewriting lists or looking at tons of cross outs.  If you prefer paper lists, try keeping your lists by category on different pages of a pad.  They won’t get crumpled and when the list becomes unacceptably messy, tear out the sheet and rewrite just that one category over again.

Items that must be taken care of on a specific day belong on your calendar: Obviously meetings or appointments belong on your calendar.  However, adding repeating items to your calendar on for ex., the 1st and 15th day of each month, such as pay bills, avoids having to continually add and remove such items from your to do list.

Use your smart phone:
Alarms: Don’t want to forget to take your medication or accomplish some other timely event, like not forgetting to pick up your kid?  Alarms on your phone work better than a string around your finger.
Rolling events: These are great because items automatically move to the next day in your calendar if you haven’t completed and deleted it.  This is great if you need to accomplish something this week, but really aren’t sure which day you will get it done.  Put it in your calendar and be reminded daily until it’s done, without ever having to put it on your to do list day after day.

Rolling events on paper: Prefer a paper day planner?  Like less structure to your day?  Put each to do on a separate sticky note and stick them on today in your calendar.  If one isn’t done, slap it on the following day.  If it is, enjoy crumpling it and throwing it away.

Don’t beat yourself up: If you don’t get to something on today’s list that was not urgent or earth shattering, it’s ok.  Tomorrow’s another day!

Congratulate and reward your efforts: Got an unpleasant task?  Treat yourself like a 3 year old and build in some rewards.  After I do half, I will reward myself with 15 minutes of something I enjoy, like talking to a friend, a 15 minute walk, listening to music, random internet time, reading a book, playing word games, etc.  As you move though your lists and cross off or delete tasks, take a moment to feel good about what you’ve accomplished and let it inspire you to keep going.

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