To-do lists aren’t as simple as writing down what you need to do each day. If you want to get your most important work done, your list needs to be more strategic than that. Why? Because as Lauren Berger explains in her latest book, Get it Together, if you have 10 things on your to-do list and a day full of meetings, those to-dos realistically won’t get done.
So, what do we do?
We create an effective to-do list by following these 5 steps:
Step 1: To-Do Dump
Get out a piece of paper or start a new page in your notebook and write down all of your big tasks—aka your “To Do Dump”. Whether it’s something you need to do today, next week, or by the end of the month, get it all out in one place.
BONUS TIP: Instead of writing writing down all of the small emails you have to answer, group these together and write “answer quick emails”. And, we’ll get to how to handle those in a later step.
Step 2: Prioritize Immediate/Urgent Tasks
Once all of your to-dos are out of your head and in one place, take a highlighter and highlight all of your urgent and/or immediate tasks. These are what we need to find time for right now.
Step 3: Write Your To-Do Today List
Get out a new piece of paper or start another new page in your notebook and write down everything you highlighted on “Today’s To-Do List”. (I use this post-it to do list so I can start each day fresh.) Now, you now have your ideal “to-do today list”. But, as we know, just because we want to get something done, doesn’t mean our calendar will allow for that to happen. Which leads us to Step 4…
Step 4: Compare and Calendar It
It’s time to compare your calendar and your to-do list. Look at each task and estimate how long it’s going to take. Do you have 3 tasks that take 20 minutes each? Great! Cluster those together and mark off 1 hour to tackle all 3 at once. This is when you should set aside time for checking emails and answering those quick emails I mentioned in Step 1!
Go through your list and determine how much time you need for each task and mark it off in your calendar.
BONUS TIP: It’s likely that your day won’t go exactly as you planned and that’s OK. The point of getting tasks onto your calendar is to realistically see what you have time for and to show you how important it is that you protect that time. You might even find yourself saying no to the latest office gossip or catching up with friends for the first 20 minutes of your day—those minutes are precious!
Remember, you control where your time goes, so be strategic.
Step 5: Plan for Tomorrow
At the very end of your day, take the 5 minutes to review 3 things:
- What you didn’t finish
- What you need to do on your to-do dump
- Tomorrow’s calendar
Then, use all of this information to set your schedule for the next day.
Here’s what my schedule looked like recently with this method in mind!
BONUS TIP: Don’t forget to take breaks! You’ll burn out if you don’t. For every hour or so of hard work, reward yourself with at least a 10 minute break. Go for a walk, get some water, or stretch it out. Whatever you do, avoid social media. This time is for you to recharge, not get sucked into Instagram stories and the lives of other people!
This 5 step plan to create a to-do list will help you to not only get your work done, but to make your time a priority. Follow these steps and watch your productivity soar!
Meet the author:
Cheryl is the creator of and voice behind personal and professional development site, With Cheryl. She’s also a business book editor, 200-Hour registered yoga teacher, dancer, avid reader, productivity nerd, and constant learner who lives in New York with her husband.
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