Do you suffer from these common problems with to-do lists?
- Do you feel like you are spending too much time looking at the list, organizing it and sorting it out?
- Does it feel like there are several items on the list that you don't want to deal with and you keep skipping these items?
- Does the list keep getting longer and longer?
- Do you find it hard to update the list and end up using it for a while and then abandoning it because it's all too hard?
First, why do you need a to-do list in the first place?
A to-do list is very important for several reasons:
- As a placeholder to remember what you need to do. It's easy to forget if you don't write it down.
- So that you can properly prioritize and work on the most important items first, leaving the less important items to handle later.
- If used properly a to-do-list removes stress from your life, because you don't have to constantly think “oh yeah, I have to do that.” Instead, you can rely on your to-do list, where everything that you want to do is written down.
A list that is half complete is not very useful. If you keep some items in your head and others on your list, then you know that you cannot depend on your list as being a complete list of all the things you have to do. When this happens, you are very likely to start using your to-do list less and less. The the to-do list is an all or nothing phenomenon. You've got to get it all out of your head and onto your list, so that you really know it's all there. Of course this rule doesn't apply to routine or regular things in your life. You don't need to put routine items on your to-do list.
Problem: You keep procrastinating about some items on the list.
There are a few reasons that you could be skipping over items:
- They might be items that you can't actually do right now because you are waiting on someone else to take action on them. In this case, remove them from your to-do list and put them on a separate list of items where you are “waiting on” others. It's important to only include items on your to-do list that you can actually take action on.
- It might be that you are scared of taking action on the item. If that's the case, think of what is the very next thing you need to do to move it forward. Something that will take you less than three minutes. Then take that action immediately.
- It might be a lower priority item, so you keep skipping it because it's not that important. In that case it's probably better to keep a separate list of “lower priority” to-dos. OR you can put it onto a list of “on hold' items that you will possibly do at a later point in time.
- It might be that you are not really clear what it is that you are supposed to do with the item on your list. You wrote it down, and you feel like you should do something about it, but you're not clear exactly what that is. If this is the case, first clarify your outcome for the situation, then think what is the very first action step you can take towards that outcome. Write that action step down.
There's a simple solution to this one. Separate your list into two categories of items: one category for more important to-dos, and one category for less important items. Work on the more important items first, then move to the less important items.
You will also want to make sure that your to-do list contains only items that you can action right away. It should not contain any items that are waiting on another person, or that you are not intending to action as soon as possible.
Another tip for lengthening to-do lists is to always do really quick items immediately, rather than putting them on the list. So take action now on anything that takes only 2-3 minutes to do you, as putting it on your list and organizing it to do later will take more time than that.
Problem: You spend too much time fiddling with your to-do list.
You might find that you are a bit of a perfectionist and you are always trying to make sure that your to-do list is perfectly structured, with the exact list of items that you should be working on at all times. It looks wonderfully neat and it's always up to date. But you spend too much time looking at it and sorting through it!
If this describes you, consider moving to a more simple system for day to day use, and only use the more complex system on a weekly basis. So make a list of around 5-8 priorities each day for you to work on. Look ONLY at this list each day. You will need to continue to write down new ideas in your other, complete to-do list, but don't sort or edit it.
Then review all your other lists weekly. This way you keep everything up to date but you are only messing with your complete list weekly rather than daily.
These are the solutions to the most common problems that people have with to-do lists.