I am a to-do list expert. I don’t dabble in to-do lists the way many people do. No, I take this subject seriously and have studied it and practiced various forms of it methodically over several decades. Over this time, I’ve tested a wide array of forms and formats: electronic, online, At-a-glance, Franklin Covey, Excel, Word, Outlook and even Project for the complex multi-player to-dos in my life. I’ve tried elaborate prioritization systems (rank every to-do 1 to 5 in importance, then sort) which ended up being the most complex, dreaded to-do on my entire to-do list.
As a busy entrepreneur, spouse and mom of two, I’ve now finally settled on a system that works. To do lists are an art, not a science, so you’ve got to figure out what works for you. And you want to be sure the list is working for you, not the other way around. I’ve tried elaborate Here are my top 5 rules for effective to-do management:
- 1) The first and most important: Keep your to-do list in paper, in a notebook that you carry everywhere. I use a hardback moleskin that fits neatly into my purse.
- Electronic versions don’t work for me because it’s too hard to add a note off the cuff. I haven’t tried any iPhone apps, but I don’t think they would work because I like to see the whole list in one glance.
- Which leads me to “part b” of this rule: Keep one day’s to dos on ONE page so you can see it all at the same time. This gives you a sense of perspective (what can be done in one day?) AND accomplishment at the end of the day (when hopefully there are more items crossed out than not).
- And keep post-its by your bed in case you think of something right before falling asleep – I HATE having to get up because there is no pneumonic device powerful enough to keep even the most important of to-dos in my brain until morning.
- 2) Spend 10-15 minutes at the end of each day making the list for the next day. I’ve never had a day scarier when written down than I imagined in my head when it was all just swirling around. Starting the day with a to-do list also helps me function on auto-pilot while waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Start every to-do list re-writing the list of items from the day before that you want to continue to complete – but if you have a “repeat offender” continually staying on your list, take this opportunity to check-in on whether you REALLY want to re-write this item for the upteenth time.
- 3) Also keep a separate master list of longer term to-dos. For example, “Create an online marketing program” is a BIG to-do that I’m in the process of breaking down into smaller daily to-dos. I use a post-it file tab sticky (my favorite office supply!) to mark the page, so I can flip back to it easily.
- 4) Keep your personal and professional to-dos on the same list. We lead complicated, busy lives. Our lives are divided into blocks of TIME, not into “personal” versus “professional” items. I ’ve found it best to keep them segregated in a separate column, but on the same page. If I have to sign my daughter up for soccer camp and call back an investor on Tuesday, the relevant unit of consideration is “Tuesday”.
- 5) Give yourself LOTS of credit. I draw boxes and check them off IN ADDITION to crossing them out. And if there’s something I accomplished that wasn’t originally on the list, I add it, draw a box, check it off, then cross it out. And most importanty, take the items that didn’t get crossed off and try again tomorrow (see Rule 2 above).
And now I’ve got to run to cross this “to-do” off my list!