Are you a fan of to-do lists? If so, do you strictly follow them and check off every single item? To-do lists are the most common method for people to get more done, but it’s not always used as intended. People may know how to organize a to do list; however, some of them may not realize they’re making some small mistakes following them.
How to organize a to do list
It’s easy for anybody to write to-do lists, but they may not follow up on some of their tasks. Some people will write several things they need to get done today. Others will list a few things and focus on accomplishing those tasks.
It may vary, and they’ll get a lot done or very little work completed. In this post, I will discuss four common mistakes people make when writing out to-do lists.
How to organize a to do list:
Mistake # 1: Not being specific
One of the biggest mistakes people make is writing unclear, vague tasks. Writing unclear tasks doesn’t mean much because you likely won’t recall the details later in the day.
You could spend up to 10 minutes or more, working out the details of a particular task. It’s simple to write out tasks that aren’t specific. But if that’s the case, functions that mean little likely won’t lead to taking meaningful action.
Solution: Write tasks that force you to take action
When you write out your to-do lists, take the time to be as specific as possible. If you write out a detailed task, it’ll be easier for you to action shortly afterward.
Here are some examples of lists I wrote for myself. The first list consists of vague tasks, while the second one outlines more actionable steps.
I can explain further examples, but it’s a good starting point. Also, omitting words such as “plan,” “develop,” or “implement” are helpful because they’re meant for more significant tasks. When they are projects or challenging tasks, it’s best to put them in a separate projects list for later.
Mistake # 2: Listing “someday” tasks
Tasks that will take longer to complete on daily to-do lists can keep you from accomplishing smaller ones. It’s essential to list functions that can be performed in a single day, rather than days or weeks to finish.
Paula Rizzo, the author of Listful Thinking, suggests that if you need to work on more significant projects, break them down in smaller chunks.
For instance, writing a book will probably take more than a day to finish. For your daily to-do lists, your task can be to draft 2-5 pages daily until you finally finish the book.
Solution: Put “someday” tasks in a project list
As mentioned earlier, “someday” tasks should be categorized into a project list. This list should comprise tasks you want to fulfill in the long run. Differentiating between short-term and long-term jobs will help you create useful to-do lists.
A good example, Rizzo mentions, is “Climb Mount Everest and pick up milk.” The two tasks are different, whereas the Mount Everest one will take more effort to accomplish.
Mistake # 3: Not using a calendar with to-do lists
One of the best approaches to using to-do lists is linking it with a calendar. Some people don’t use a timeline that includes the actions from their list.
Though it’s unnecessary, it can help keep people accountable for follow-up on their activities. It’s also an excellent way to stay on track. Some people planned to work on a specific task during a certain time frame, but then they don’t follow-up on it.
Solution: Use time-blocking on your calendar
One of the best methods to getting more done is using time blocking. As I wrote about in my last post, time blocking divides your day into time chunks.
So you block out a time frame (i.e., 9 am-1 pm- deep work- writing) to focus on a specific task. If you include the actions in those time blocks, you’re more likely to follow-up on those actions listed earlier. Doing so may allow you to free up more time for leisure and spending time with family.
Mistake # 4: Writing your list out first thing in the morning
Making your to-do lists the first thing after waking up may sound reasonable. But some experts say that it’s too late when you do it first thing in the morning.
Some days, you may feel rushed and need to get somewhere or start on a project. If you have a meeting first thing in the morning, will that be enough time to write out actionable to-do lists? Maybe not, but you don’t want to feel rushed.
Solution: Make your to-do list the night before
Instead, it’s best to make your to-do lists at the end of your workday. You may have accomplished your priorities earlier in the day. You can set some time aside to plan for the next day.
Also, it’s an excellent way to wrap up and leave work behind (meaning tasks that can be put off for another time). Or if you’re like me, set aside some time right before you go to bed.
This time is right for me to reflect on my day and plan on what I want to accomplish the next day ahead. Do yourself this favor by giving your mind a rest and some peaceful time.
Making to-do lists has always been a traditional approach to being more productive. The biggest obstacle can be how the tasks are written out, and whether you’re able to take action on them.
The mistakes I discussed earlier are good reminders to keep ourselves accountable. What we write and intend to accomplish takes time and effort, and it has to be done the right way.
If you’re willing to take action, you’re more likely to see the intended outcomes you expected to achieve.
Are you making one of these mistakes on your to-do lists? Is something else you know of that makes to-do lists ineffective?
Leave a comment below and please share this post with others.
Eric is a time management consultant and owner of the blog, quitkillingtime.com. He takes great pride in helping people manage their time, personally and professionally. Eric is a firm believer in time freedom, as he believes in taking ownership of time. “Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He likes to go for long walks out in nature and been taking Zumba classes every week at his local gym. You can follow Eric via Facebook and LinkedIn.