Get Your To-Do List Under Control

Get Your To-Do List Under Control

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Is your to-do list almost too long to read every day? Or have you simply given up trying to keep a current to-do list?

Don’t give up! Get your to-do list under control to complement your time management strategies.

To begin, you need to understand that a to-do list is a “hot list” not a planning pad, wish list, or long-term idea starter. Your to-do list is for tasks that must be accomplished in 48 hours or less. For anything further ahead, use a planning list or add the items to your day planner for the appropriate due date.

I like to use the 1-3-5 method for managing my to-do list each day. It means that I pick one big task that I need to accomplish, three medium tasks, and five smaller tasks. Because of the nature of life, sometimes I can’t perfectly follow this system, but I try to stick to it as much as possible. It helps me accomplish a lot, without feeling burned out or overwhelmed.

1. Take Inventory

Start by writing down every task you need to complete on individual index cards or sticky notes. Arrange the cards in three piles: Must Do, Need to Do, Want to Do. The “Must Do” pile is the tasks that have to be completed in 24-48 hours.

2. The Approach

Take any “Must Do” items that could wait an extra day and place them on the next day’s to-do list. These are what some time management systems call the “A” level tasks. Next sort the “Need to Do” or “B” level tasks. These are important to do in the next day or two but not as imperative as showing up for a presentation or catching a plane.

3. Productivity is Yours

Finally, deal with the “Want to Do” or “C” level tasks that could be done any time in the next several days. Some time management systems suggest that you toss out the “C” tasks or add them to a “Someday” list for when you have extra time. Of course, that’s humorous since you need a time management system because you are already overscheduled.

If you want to include these, just make sure they don’t serve as a distraction from necessary items. For example, you might enjoy surfing the net for collectible books but you don’t need to do that “C” item when you have an “A” list report due in four hours.

4. The Superhero Syndrome

How many items can you manage on a daily to-do list? It depends on whether each item is a one-step process or multi-step process. With complex tasks, you may only be able to reasonably complete 3 or 4 “Must Do” items in a day. As you are adjusting to this time management technique, make a note of each item about how much time you expect to spend on this task.

5. Using Your Tools

You can create a paper to-do list or one on your computer, just as long as it’s easily accessible during the day. When an item is done, cross it off, make a checkmark beside it or in some way be able to see what’s done from what needs to be done.

If you use an electronic to-do list, you can add a color background for each level. The advantage of color-coding items is that you can quickly see how many yellow highlighted “Must Do” items are left compared with the green highlighted “Need to Do” items.

6. When the Day is Done

At the end of the day, transfer any remaining important items to the proper category on the next day’s to-do list. When you finish the day and see most or all of the “Must Do” items finished and crossed off your list, it’s a great sense of relief and motivation to keep your time management system working for you.

Do you have any tips for getting in control of your to-do list? Share with us in the comments below!

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