To-do lists tend to top the list of things to do when you’re feeling your workload get overwhelming. It doesn’t take a lot to understand why the to-do list is the recommended first resort for managing your time and resources when things get demanding at work (or, let’s be honest, at home). A list is easy to make and easy to reference. A list lets you break down tasks into manageable pieces and set priorities, and it can help you be sure important tasks don’t get overlooked or forgotten. It allows you to visualize your progress–who doesn’t get a little boost of motivation from crossing off an item on a to-do list?
For lots of us, the to-do list is just a natural extension of planning the workday. For some of us, a to-do list can seem like an extra chore. Many of us fall somewhere else on the to-do list spectrum, sometimes making lists, then lapsing, then coming back to listing again. Whatever your previous experience with to-do lists, there are several ways to make your to-do lists work better for you.
Pick the Right Medium
There’s no wrong medium for a to-do list; there’s only what works for you and what doesn’t. If you want to go with a pen (or pencil) and paper, loads of options exist for pre-printed to-do lists and planners. However, a designated notebook, pad, dry-erase board, or series of sticky notes work just as well.
If you prefer to compose your list in digital form, you can choose from a plethora of apps that will help make managing your to-do list a breeze. Some are free, and some are paid. Microsoft offers a to-do list app in its Office 360 suite, and Google offers a similar app as an extension for the Chrome web browser. Both these options seamlessly integrate into systems you’re probably using already.
Make Time to list
Whether you’re new to to-do lists or an old hand at using them, the listing process works best if you’re updating consistently. Set aside time at the start or end of the day (or week) to create or update your list for the day. Some experts recommend making your list the night before, so you can jump right into the first task at the start of a new workday.
Keep It Simple
If you’re keeping a daily list of tasks to do, you don’t need to try to include everything. Long to-do lists tend to be daunting and frustrating. Keep your daily list short, and focus on priorities. If you have more than ten items on your daily list, you’re trying to do too much. Remember, the point here is to keep your daily task load manageable. Some experts even recommend limiting your daily list to three to five items.
Even though your list may only have a few entries on it each day, be sure each entry contains all the relevant information to help you get that task done. Jot in phone numbers, timelines, subtasks, and other information you might need in the moment as you complete the task, so you don’t get sidetracked looking up that information later.
Keep More Than One list
It may not make sense to start out with a lot of to-do lists in your life, but having two lists–one for daily tasks and one for weekly or long-term tasks–will allow you to keep those lists simple and manageable. If you have a daily list of three to five tasks, all those other items can roll over to the weekly list. You can use a variety of formats for your short-term and long-term lists. The key is to try out some different formats to see what works best for you.
Remember Your Priorities
The main advantage of visualizing daily and weekly tasks on a list is that it allows you space to set your priorities. Anything that doesn’t get done, consider rolling it to the next day, delegating or outsourcing it, or letting it go–an important option for those super-low-priority items on the list. It’s still your list, so you can be flexible about the tasks you want to keep on it.
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