Here is a step-by-step guide for a productive to do list that actually DOES make you more productive!
How many times have you written a to do list, only to crinkle it up in shame at the end of the day? Some people love them and get a deep satisfaction out of ticking that little checkbox. Other people hate the pressure and refuse to let a piece of paper tell them what to do.
I used to be the latter.
Until I began to hate how unproductive I was being. One day, I was procrastinating and scrolling through Pinterest, when I found Filofaxes. Not the boring, leather business agendas. I mean gorgeous, colour-coordinated masterpieces!
My journey into the world of paper planning began! It is fun, absolutely. And my planner can look as pretty as can be, but if I’m not getting anything done, I’m still going to feel demotivated!
Over the years of implementing the many MANY hours of reading and watching anything about paper planning and organization, I’ve figured out the key to an effective to do list.
So, are you ready?
Action – Pick a day to use your to do list in the next week or so.
You can do this every day if you want, but use one day to start off with and see how you find it!
‘Twas the night before…
When is the best time to write your list?
Some people sit down and write a to do list in the morning. Personally, I recommend the night before. Then, when you wake up, you can get started straight away and know exactly how your day needs to go. Often, those little pockets of time when you first wake up are the most valuable!
Action – Schedule some time before bed to work on your to do list for the following day.
Let it all out
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says our brains are meant for processing, not for storage. Often we try to hold everything in our heads, when really we should release it all so we can free up our mental energy for other things.
Avoid brain burn out by writing EVERYTHING you want to get done that day. I mean EVERYTHING. Here’s an example of one of my “Everything Lists”.
I usually do this monthly, weekly, then daily. But you can try it out by just writing a daily list.
Action – Get a piece of paper and write down everything you want to get done on the day you’ve selected.
Where do you need to be?
Now you know everything you want to do, it’s time to be realistic about what you actually CAN do. Some days we have more free time than others. For your to do list to be as productive as possible, you need to work out how much time you actually have in your day to get things done.
I don’t just mean think about appointments, I mean consider anything that is non-negotiable during a certain time. That way you know during those times you won’t be able to do anything else.
This gives you a clear view of how much free time you actually have and when you should tackle certain to do list items.
As you can see in the list above, I’ve noted down when my kids leave and come home from school, because during that half hour I know I’ll be busy waiting for the buses or helping them get organized. I also know when I absolutely need to start cooking in order to get dinner ready on time.
Action – On a separate piece of paper, write hourly (or half-hourly) slots vertically down the page. Now fill in anything you HAVE to do at a certain time.
Don’t run before you can walk
Is there any possibility of me hanging the wet clothes before I’ve done the wash load? Nope.
This is why I write my to do list in the order that makes the most sense to complete the items. This is where the time slots really come in handy! You don’t have to stick to those time slots rigidly, but they give you a rough idea when things should get done.
No more wasting precious moments working out what you need to do. You can just look at your list and see what’s next!
Action – Add the remaining items from your Everything List into the remaining time slots in an order that makes sense for you.
Make it pretty. Or not!
Now this step is entirely optional, but I will say a little sticker therapy goes a long way to feeling calmer about your busy day!
You can add decorations or colours or stickers or anything that makes you feel happy and motivated when you look at it. I like to add inspirational and motivational quotes into my planner pages. But some weeks are so jam-packed, I go with the bare minimum!
Some people find a clean, minimalistic list much more motivating, so it’s completely down to personal preference.
Action – Colour code your tasks, add stickers, washi tape or stamps – anything you like!
Keep looking at it
Simple enough, right?
Wrong. The amount of times I’ve spent precious time working on a to do list only to be so busy the next day I barely even look at it!
The purpose of a killer, productive to do list is not just to tell you what needs to be done, but to keep you motivated whilst you’re doing it. I keep my planner open on the counter or my desk – somewhere I will see it often and get to check off those completed tasks.
Action – Place your list somewhere you can see it regularly throughout your day.
Seriously, a productive to do list is powerless if you don’t actually do the things on it. No one is going to do those tasks for you. So, to quote Frozen 2… Do The Next Right Thing!
Action – One task at a time, make your way through that list and DO ALL THE THINGS!
How do you like to set up your to do lists? Let me know in the comments!