Let’s start with a couple of reasons why you should write to-do lists in the first place. When we write something down, we send a signal to our brain that it no longer has to remember the thing that we wrote down. This means that we’re free to focus on more productive things than ‘remembering to pick up a loaf of bread from the shops’. Crossing things off a list makes us feel good and our mind loves the rush of completing all our tasks.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I have very strict rules when it comes to my daily to-do lists. The reason I’m strict is that I want to eliminate as much stress as possible from my daily life. I’m a very organised woman but I’m also emotionally driven so if I don’t fancy doing something, it just won’t get done. Even though I know that things one dread are rarely as bad as one imagines that they will be, sometimes I still can’t bring myself to do something that I really don’t want to do. I tend to give myself a treat, e.g. a matinée screening or a new book when I’ve done something that I was particularly dreading. I highly recommend it.
Creating routines is important because it makes us feel safe. The first thing on my list is always yoga. I get up around 7.30am every day and do my yoga first thing. Then I write and read for a bit, and have breakfast before I get on with my day. When it comes to writing my to-do list, here are the things that I’ve found work for me.
Write next day’s to-do list in the evening
That way you won’t have all of next day’s tasks in your head, stressing you out when you’re trying to sleep.
Only write things down that have to be done the next day
Don’t write anything down that you ‘should’ be doing but can do another day. This may sound like procrastination but it’s not. You want to be as productive as possible and therefore you want less things on your to-do list so that you will be able to complete all of them.
Highlight things that need to be prioritised
Things that are the most important should be done first with exception of things that fall into the category below.
If something on your list takes less than 10 minutes to do, do it straight away
For example telephone calls and emails. Get them over and done with. Crossing multiple things off the list quickly will motivate you to carry on.
Use specific terms and break tasks down into smaller ones
Again, this motivates you to get things done so don’t be vague.
Never put more than 3 big tasks on your list
You can put smaller parts of a big task on the list if you really need to, but be careful not to put too many big tasks on the list.
Don’t put more than 10 things on your list
A long to-do list overwhelms you and puts you in a state of paralysis. Our mind fixates on the uncompleted tasks and causes us distress. There’s even a name for this; the Zeigarnik effect.
Estimate how long each task will take and make sure to give yourself extra time
It’s far too easy to misjudge time only to end up with loads of things that you didn’t have time to do. Things go wrong, things turn up and things change, so allow extra time.
When possible, delegate
Can someone else do any of the tasks?
If you’re really not in the mood, put the list aside and do something fun for a while
Take a whole day off if you need to.
Focus on doing one thing at a time and take regular breaks
In reality, trying to multitask takes longer than doing one thing at a time. We can’t focus on things for too long and we do really need breaks, and lots of them.
If you still have tasks left on your to-do list by 8pm, scratch it and write next day’s list
Set a time limit that suits you but it shouldn’t be any later than 8pm. Your mind needs rest so you can be productive the next day.