The New To-Do List

By January 22, 2015Freelance

We all love to read articles about to do lists and imagine how our life would be better if we had one.  When you first make a to-do list it might seem hard to check everything of the list, especially when you want to do many things  or when you are a creative person.

I write this article because for the past years I have been writing to-do lists and they always seemed that are endless and I could never check everything. But, for this new year I want to try something new and I want to share it with you too. Making a regular list only made things worse especially for someone with a very unpredictable day.

We tend to plan for the day at hand and most of us don’t even think about the unscheduled things that might interfere with what we planned for that day. Planning is a good thing, but save some room for the unexpected things. Plans don’t work quite exactly how we make them.

Have you ever felt that guilt of not accomplishing what you planned? I did.

Have you ever felt like whatever you do to manage your time better you can’t check all your tasks of the list? I have been told more than once that “I should manage my time better” and I will be able to check the whole list and be content at the end of the day. Of course if you are constantly procrastinating and doing other things instead of what you are supposed to do, then “time management” is something you should improve. Note that “time management” doesn’t mean sacrificing quality in order to complete more tasks. DO NOT do that. Do not ever sacrifice quality.

And so I was thinking of a way to change this and I was asking myself “what to do to make myself feel better and still do a lot of things from the list”?

The solution is quite simple if think about it. While I was talking to a friend about productivity and how to prioritize things, I eventually ended up talking about my to-do list. His response was simple: you don’t know how to plan your to do list.

The answer to my question was: “instead of making a to do list of only one day and saying today I have to do this and this and that, make one where you write all the things you need to do and say  these days I have to do this”.

Before you start making the to do list, write down all the things you can think of that you need to do and all the things you want to do. Now next to each one of them write the amount of time you need to finish that task and add a margin of error.  Of course you need to be realistic, otherwise you will just fool yourself and everything I will tell you in this article will be for nothing.

On a regular to do list you write down all the things you want to accomplish in one day. No matter the plans for a day, there is always something unexpected that offsets your schedule, maybe a new client that wants to talk about a new project, a problem that has a high priority. You simply can’t keep up with your daily to do list and  feel like going nuts because when you get home and look at what you checked and what you didn’t, you feel bad because you feel you didn’t accomplish much.

With this new method you write things you want to accomplish in the next days, maybe during a week.

Eliminate the word “today”. Write down all the things you need to accomplish and then set a deadline. Of course there will be tasks with the deadline “today”, you’ll focus on those and combine them with tasks that go along with what you have to do throughout the next days or next week depending how you planned.

To give you my personal example, I create a to do list once a week and revise it once each 3-4 days depending how the things roll, a new clients contacts me, I might finish faster and I have some time that can be filled in and so on.  I still get interrupted and my schedule gets slightly offset but to make up for that at the end of the week when I revise the to last week to-do list, I add all the other things I accomplished (the unexpected tasks I solved for).

As I mentioned a few times earlier, we want to feel like we accomplished a lot. And since 24 hours always seem like they are not enough, opt for a weekly version as I did and when you look back you see many things that add up to what we use to say “I did a lot of stuff”.

24 are never enough. With this new method you trick your mind into tkining you have more time. Because your mind doesn’t always keep reminding you you are out of time, you can actually focus more on your work and be better at doing it.

The best analogy for this new method is to think of the to do list as of a wardrobe, only instead of putting clothes you put tasks. And each day, there is the mandatory clothing and the non-mandatory clothing that you take along the way with you depending on the circumstances and the same goes for tasks. To put it simpler divide your to do list in two parts and when you wake up write the mandatory ones and then on the other half write the non-mandatory ones. The thing with non-mandatory tasks is they can be transfered back to the pile of tasks you set for the week and be completed some other day if you schedule suffers a slight offset during one day. And there is no problem because at the end of the week when you revise the list you still checked it.

In conclusion, no matter how busy you are, no matter if you are a freelancer of full-time employee, plan your to-do list for the next 3 days, next week, plan it for the amount of time you are comfortable with.  Think for more than 16 hours that you spend while you are awake. Eliminate the sense of lack of accomplishment and be better at what you do. Give it some time because though. At first you will feel drawn back to the old way of thinking about to do lists but over the course of 3 weeks the new method will become a habit and things will start to change for better.

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