How To Make A To-Do-List You Can Actually Complete

Organization Time Management

Do you use a to-do-list? Or, do you not bother because they don’t help you get anything done. For some our to-do-list stares back at us at the end of the day taunting us for not getting anything on it done.

Make A Kick-Butt To-Do-List

1. Start the night before.

Make your to-do-list for tomorrow at the end of each day. Why? Well, because it is fresh in your mind where you left off on certain tasks. Backtracking in the morning to figure this out is a huge time-sucker.

2. Maximize the time between appointments.

Look at your calendar for scheduled appointments. This will help you see how much time you really have to get stuff done. Specifically, look for gaps or chunks of time available. Consider commute time or prep time required before your next meeting.

For example: You notice you’ve got an appointment that ends at 10a.m. and your next one doesn’t start until 11a.m. At first glance, you’ve got an entire hour to get something done. But wait. It’s gonna take you 30-minutes to get to your 11a.m. appointment. Now you’re down to 30 minutes to get something done.

The key is to focus on those quick but mostly annoying tasks like making dentist appointments or registering your kid for a class or sport. You can get that one thing done in those 30 minutes and get it off your list.

3. Try Time-Blocking

Notice your schedule is full of only small gaps like these? Consider time-blocking. Don’t schedule any meetings during your high-energy time of day. For me that is morning. I get so much done before noon it’s crazy. Not so much in the afternoon. I coach clients in the afternoon because I can tap into the energy I get from connecting with people to give me a boost. And when I’ve gotten my stuff done in the morning I’m feeling good and can really focus on my clients.

Another way to time-block is to mark your “to-do-list time” on your calendar as an appointment. This is super-duper important if someone else has access to your calendar and can schedule meetings for you. Do this even just one or two days a week and you’ll start to get more stuff done.

No matter what your calendar looks like, understanding the real amount of time available outside of scheduled meetings is critical to keeping your to-do-list realistic for that day.

4. Decide What Goes on the Next Day’s To-Do-List

These don’t have to big projects. They can be phone calls or organizing new client files. If it’s taking your time, it needs to be on your to-do-list.

Put each task into one of these 4 buckets.

  • Must Now

These are the things which have to get done today and you can’t push to the side. These are those things that have due dates. Others are counting on you to complete them on-time.

  • Must-But Later 

You know you need to get these things done but they aren’t super time sensitive for today.

If the same things keep showing up in this bucket, it’s time to take a fresh look at what makes this so important.

Ask yourself the following:

Is anyone asking me for this?

Why does this need to get done? (clue: if you hear yourself say the word “should” you probably “shouldn’t” have this on your list.) What is the worst thing that will happen if this doesn’t get done?

What are the benefits to getting this done?

Answering these questions will help you decide if it’s time to:

1. Take this item off your to-do-list all together, or

2. Move it to the Must Now bucket, or

3. Move it to the Want To bucket.

  • Need To 

These things you need to do to keep yourself energized and productive to complete the Must Now bucket. Eating lunch, taking a 10-minute walk, meditating for 5 minutes.

I put my workout on my to-do-list at least 3x a week. I notice if it’s not on my list, I blow it off. And my productivity suffers.

  • Want To

These are the things that grab our attention because they are fun, new or big picture stuff. I used to put these things on my list so I wouldn’t forget my fabulous ideas. But I never got to these things because they weren’t really things yet.

Now if these same things keep showing up here after a week or two, I decide if I want to take action on it anytime soon or if it can wait. Most often, remembering the great idea is all I really want at this time.

Putting it on my to-do-list was just setting myself up to never complete my to-do-list and feeling bad about myself at the end of the day. Now I put these in an idea notebook. Others like to use a white board so it’s always in plain sight.

5. Make Your To-Do-List

With your buckets and calendar for the next day in front of you:

First make a list of each task from the Must Now Bucket.

Estimate how much time you think it will take you to complete each task. Look at your schedule for the next day and note the time you plan to work on each task.

Potentially, you discovered it’s not possible to complete the entire item in the time you have. At a minimum, what HAS to get done on that item and what piece can be done the following day? If you are at crunch time with something, look at your schedule to determine if any meetings can be rescheduled.

Next do the same for each item in the Need To Bucket.

Remember these are non-negotiable to keep you at peak performance throughout your day.

Do you not have enough time on your calendar to complete all the items in these two buckets? If not, go back and decide if you may have put too much importance on one or more items.

6. Work Your To-Do-List

This is one place most of us struggle – putting it all into action. Some of us are planners. We can plan the heck out of anything but getting into motion is another thing all together.

Get Into Motion by:

  • Start your workday by reading the To-Do-List you made the night before instead of checking your email or social media (if those are important they should be scheduled on your To-Do-List like anything else.)
  • Visualize yourself doing and completing the items on your list.

How will you feel when they are done?

Who will you be helping by completing them?

How will it feel to NOT have to have it on your list tomorrow?

  • Celebrate your accomplishments!

I get a very weird sense of accomplishment by physically crossing it off my list with a big red marker. What’s your quirky woo-hoo way to celebrate?

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