I love to-do lists. There’s something so satisfying about starting the day with my dot journal, recording all the possibilities for that day, starting with the grocery shopping and ending with the book I need to edit. On my to-do list are goals for daily health, the freelance article that’s due this week, and plans for today’s social media schedule. My list helps me move forward and keep focused on a plan. Some days I’m rocking and rolling, crossing things off right and left. But other days, I fail. Why?
Probably for the same reasons you do.
Take today, for example. In a rare occurrence, I realized this morning I had a completely free day. No work. All my household chores were done. My kids were at work and my husband off doing his thing. The whole day was mine!
I had this delightful realization in mind as I pulled out my journal and happily started making a list with checkboxes. Edit my novel. Do research for an upcoming article. Plan a few blogs. Plot my next novel.
Before I knew it. I had two full pages of things to do, and I was pleased as punch that today I could do it all!
“I watch a lot of astronaut movies….Mostly Star Wars. And even Han and Chewie use a checklist.” — Jon Stewart
And then…I assigned time limits for each item. That’s when reality struck. I didn’t even make it through the first page before I ran out of hours in the day.
The #1 reason why your to-do list failed? You were unrealistic with your time, and you put too many things on it.
Another reason why it will fail — it lacks reason. What’s your WHY in your to-do list? I mean, are you just putting stuff on there to be busy, or because they’re things that need to be done? If your list consists of pointless tasks that don’t actually matter if they get done or not, it’s going to be pretty easy to get in the habit of skipping items on your list. Today you put off sending an email, no biggie. Tomorrow it’s skipping article research…and your next free day is a week away.
The third reason why your to-do list will fail is there’s nothing fun on it. Make you bed. Blah. Go grocery shopping. Blah. Clean the litter box. Blah. Pay the bills. Blah.
How about, take a nap? Or watch a movie? Or read a book? Sure, the world won’t stop if you don’t do these things…but you will. Life isn’t just about doing the things you have to do, it’s about doing the things that make you happy, too.
“Everything in life is a checklist, whether it’s building a birdhouse or building a kitchen. If you don’t have a checklist, you’re much more likely to forget something.” — Brian Tracy
So, what’s the solution?
First and foremost, be realistic with your time
Can you really accomplish 15 big things in a day? Probably not. If you wake up at 8 a.m. and go to bed at 10 p.m., that gives you 14 hours a day…and that’s if you skip eating, peeing, or staring off into space. So, to be fair, let’s give you 10 hours to play with. With that time frame in mind, think about the things you want to accomplish, and how much time you have to do them. So, if writing a Medium article is on your to-do list, how much time will it take for you to plot and research that article, and then write and edit it? Do this for every task, and then plan accordingly.
“Subtracting from your list of priorities is as important as adding to it.” ― Frank Sonnenbergrian Tracy
Organize your list into three sections: must do, want to do, and if there’s still time
On your must do list, only put 3–5 items, the less, the better. This is a list of the things you absolutely, positively need to do today. On the next list are the things you’d like to get done, but can put off until tomorrow if you have to. The third list are the things that are absolutely not vital at all, but you’d still like to do if there’s still time left over. Truthfully, this third list probably won’t be touched. However, your mind will still be at ease because you’ve written them down so you won’t forget, should you find time on a future day.
Consider a weekly or monthly to-do list rather than a daily to-do list
One of my favorite things I have is this monthly planner that helps me plan my days, weeks, and months. At the beginning of each month, I’ll plan what I want to accomplish over the next 30 days, and then map it out on the calendar. I love thinking about my goals in 30 day increments instead of daily because I can accomplish a lot more, and also see the progression toward reaching my goals. Another thing I’ll do, especially on weekends, is assign my tasks to several days rather than just one. Then those large lists don’t matter so much because I have more time to finish them. By the end of my weekend, I can look back at my list and feel accomplished.
Do the hard thing first
You know that one thing you keep putting off? That phone call you don’t want to make, the email you don’t want to send, the chore you’re dreading to do? Do it first. Trust me, I’m the queen of procrastination. There’s a pile next to my bed I keep promising to clean tomorrow, and I keep saying the litter box can wait one more day. The funny thing is, those things I’m procrastinating about, the things that I keep on my list and then keep moving down, are things that would take just minutes to finish. I know not every dreaded task is a quick fix, but often it’s worth it in weight alone to just get it done so you can move on. The rest of your list will probably move faster, too, just by doing the hard thing first. Don’t believe me? Think of what your procrastinating habits look like. For me, it’s scrolling Facebook and reading Medium articles. If I get the hard thing done first, I can just move to the next item. Procrastination averted!
Don’t forget the fun!
It can’t be all business all the time. You’re a human being, not a machine! If your to-do list has a bunch of things you dread doing, life is going to suck, fast. Break things up by adding in a date with the book you’re reading, or scheduling a much needed nap (trust me, you need it), or play time at the park with your dog. And go ahead, add it to your “must do” list.
Are you a to-do list fanatic? What are some or your tools for success?
Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.
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