The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating an Efficient TO-DO List
Posted on May 7, 2012
Some people just seem to be naturally organized. But even those who are always on the ball have to put some effort into remaining that way. Sure, their natural affinity gives them a better starting point than those of us who are unable to maintain our lives without chaos, but the time and energy spent putting things into place are still expended.
What we can learn from those who always appear to be on the ball is how to incorporate their organizational skills into our own lives. Perhaps the easiest way is through the use of well made To-Do lists. These handy little goal setters can really provide us with an effective method of utilizing our resources and getting things done the right way.
But there is a right way and a wrong way of putting together a To-Do list, believe it or not. These ten tips will help you to get the most out of your own.
Sometimes Not Getting Organized Is More Productive
Sound a little iffy? It’s true, we often procrastinate on actually getting things done by claiming to need to organize things first. We might separate things into a list of what we must do and then put off the more crucial elements. We may even spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to come up with some kind of schedule that we probably won’t use. Usually, this is to avoid doing something we think will be hard.
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One thing I have personally learned about this is that the item I am worrying over is rarely as difficult as I think. Also, no matter how reluctant I am to get started, once I finish I am always shocked that I wasted so much time “preparing” for it when I could have just gotten it done and eliminated the stress.
If organization is something you have time for, and that you know could genuinely help you, go for it. If not, just forget about it and move on to the projects. A nice slap in the face and a pep talk are all that are needed for that spark of motivation.
Advanced Software is A Serious Waste Of Time
Let’s say a To-Do list actually is the best thing for you. Now, you have to create a good one that isn’t also a time waster. Many people will turn to online lists for this purpose, and they can work out alright. But, if I am really being honest, I think these are a total and complete waste of time and energy.
Think about what you have to do to use online organization programs: You sign up, sign in, list your goals, and then you have to sign in every time you complete something. Which ultimately puts you on the Internet. Which will inevitably distract you from what you went there to do. I have yet to meet a person who can resist checking their email, social networking profile or cute pictures of kittens while near a computer.
Want to know the best materials for a list? A scrap of paper and a pen. Or, if you want to go really crazy with it, a notebook you use as a day planner. I know, how archaic of me. But sometimes the classics really are better, ladies and gentleman…a piece of paper will not lure you away to a flash game.
If You Aren’t Going To Do It, Don’t Put It Down
I am terribly guilty of this one. I get a little bit overly ambitious and just overload my To-Do list with crap. About 25% of it factors into a reachable daily or weekly goal, and I end up getting it done. The rest just sits there, and I never had any real intention of doing it anyway. Instead, I turned it into a kind of productivity wish list.
Not only does it waste time sitting there and thinking of pointless items to put on a list, but it is discouraging. The list is longer, the workload seems much heavier and at the end of the deadline you are not happy with what you accomplished. There is no end to the list, just things you couldn’t be bothered to complete. What a letdown!
Just sit down and come up with things that really need to be completed and that you know you can finish. Then you can have that heady moment of accomplishment when you look down and see everything crossed off your list.
Add Very Specific Tasks (Never Generalize)
“Clean House” might seem like a good goal, but it is actually pretty general. A house tends to be pretty big, and a lot is involved with cleaning one…presumably. The problem is that it might not be especially in depth, or it could be something as simple as picking up a few things and wiping down a counter. Being general also gives you an excuse to cut out tasks you would have done when you are bored.
So, instead of writing something general, try instead for a more complete list. For example:
- Write post for EpicLauch
- Send assignments to the content editor
- Follow up with Jim on the launch date
- Edit and schedule post at SEOsmarty
- Reply to interview request from Inc.com
Yeah, I know, it seems like a really long list. But is is specific, and you can be sure you hit every one of your marks without forgetting. Even if you get distracted, you just look back at your list and move on to the next task. Plus, the same tactic works for any kind of organization, from work to daily activities.
Aim To Prioritize
What is the most important element on your list? Is there anything time sensitive? Can something wait until the very end? These are important questions to ask yourself when making a list, which should be ordered based on priority. While this might seem like a no-brainer, you might be surprised by how many people instead go based on what is easiest, or what they most look forward to doing.
Keep in mind that some things might be more important, but still shouldn’t be first on your list. One example is that while picking up your elderly mother at the airport is a very important task, it shouldn’t come before walking the dog. Not unless one of the items later on the list is “Clean up mess made by dog”. In which case, feel free to order it in any way you wish.
Speak In Terms Of Action, Use Plenty Of Verbs
It is a little silly, but our mind reacts better to seeing verbs than any other kind of word. We just respond to it, and it is more likely to spark motivation and get us moving. Why? I have no idea, and since one of my goals on my To-Do list is ‘Finish article’ and not ‘Look up complicated neuroscience’, it will have to remain a mystery for now.
In any case, using plenty of verbs in your list as a call to action will help you get started. Instead of saying ‘Lawn’ write ‘Mow Lawn’. If the verb is already in the description, add more. So ‘Running’ becomes ‘Go Running’. It is a small thing that makes a big difference.
Separate Your Goals With Different Lists For Different Projects
You don’t want your list to get too bogged down with information. You especially don’t want to have to try and figure out which task is for which project. No matter how clearly labeled the categories might be, it is always much better to make different lists for different goals. Even if that means making more than one at the same time.
I never keep my work and personal lists together, because I inevitably get discouraged seeing it all plastered there like that. It just reminds me of all that has to be done. The effect is even worse when I combine work project lists, and then I don’t know which to begin first, and have trouble not jumping from one task to another without a beneficial order.
Different lists for different projects: simple, but effective.
Update Your List Often
An old list is a useless list. Priorities change, items are completed and new tasks become necessary. Which is why it is good to make sure you update your lists as often as is necessary to keep you on fresh tasks. Which doesn’t mean you have to spend a huge amount of time organizing them, but instead a few minutes here and there setting your goals and a deadline to complete them.
I like to have a simple list of the day’s work done first thing in the morning, and another list done every Sunday for the week ahead. It sounds like a lot, but the daily list takes me about a minute to scribble down, and the weekly list takes perhaps a few minutes. Certainly not enough time to make it a chore.
Don’t Overload It
We touched on this a bit before, about only putting things on that are relevant and you will complete. But I want to take it a step further and say that you shouldn’t put too much on your To-Do list even when you have a lot that has to get done. I am talking about genuine priorities, as well.
The reason for this is that you will add unnecessary stress by having a To-Do list that is full of so much you will feel incapable of getting it all done. Instead, you should limit it to maybe five or seven items. Once you finish that list, if there is more to do you can make a new one. Doing it this way will make it all seem more achievable.
Customize It To Your Preferences
Once you get past high priority issues that have to be dealt with, you have the rest of your list that doesn’t really match up in importance. That is where you can customize the tasks according to your personal preference.
I prefer to do the harder tasks first and then save the easier items on my list for the very end. That makes it easier to work my way through the list and take it easy as I get closer to the end of my day, when I am inevitably more tired. But other people do it the opposite, or interchange.
Making a To-Do list is an excellent way to keep up with tasks, organize projects and keep yourself on the ball. But sometimes it takes we have a tendency to do it the wrong way, and so there are fewer benefits in the effort. Don’t fall into that trap…try these ten tips to make the most out of your organization attempts.