Today’s post comes from regular Momof6 contributor, Crystal Sabalaske…
Before I even get out of bed in the morning, I run through a mental checklist of what needs to get done that day. Admittedly, what I have on that list determines whether I jump out of bed and take a quick shower or linger in bed a little longer. How do I even know what’s on the list if I’ve just woken up? Well, I create my to-do lists before bed every night. I prefer the brain dump method over the keep-me-up-all-night insomnia that results if I don’t write it all down. Also, sometimes it is so chaotic in the morning to get the kids out the door and get ready for work that I would probably forget something if I tried to sit down and compile my list in the midst of that chaos.
To take control of your to-do list, I recommend the following strategies:
Spend 15 minutes a night planning for the next day
“1 hour of planning will save 10 hours of doing” – from Balance Time. So, planning for 15 minutes a night will save you almost 20 hours over the course of a week! I’ve quoted this statistic before in seminars, but because it always sounds a little extreme, I continuously search to see if the statistic is still valid. I just found this quote to support it, “10-12 minutes invested in planning your day will save at least 2 hours of wasted time and effort throughout the day” – from Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. The time you save by planning is time you would otherwise spend looking for items, back-tracking, playing phone tag, duplicating efforts etc. If you plan to consolidate your errands, pay all of your bills at one time, and tackle your phone call list, imagine how productive you can become.
Look at your schedule for the day and figure out when you will actually have time to tackle items on your to-do list
If you will be in meetings all day or you’re scheduled to go to the doctor or be a guest reader in your child’s class, you obviously won’t be available to make phone calls and run errands during those times. The items on your to-do list are things that you do BETWEEN appointments.
Using the time you will have available, create a realistic list of what you can done on that particular day
If you only have an hour of “free” time between appointments, then your to-do list should only include tasks that can be completed within that hour. (I think this is where many people struggle with to-do lists. They put more on the list than they can realistically expect to get done. At the end of the day, they look at the list and it screams “FAILURE” because they didn’t accomplish much.) If you put “go to dry cleaners” on your list on Monday but know you won’t even be driving near the dry cleaners until Friday, then wait until Friday to put it on your list. Ideally, you should only put 5-7 to-do items on your list per day.
Group similar tasks together
Doing so puts you in the mindset to focus on that type of task. Tackle phone calls, bill-paying, filing, errands, research, online shopping etc. by working on one type of task at a time.
If you are working on a large project, break it down into smaller tasks and put those individual goals on your daily to-do list
I always use the “painting a room” example. Instead of writing “paint room” on your to-do list, organize the project like this: Monday – pick out paint color, Tuesday – buy paint supplies, Wednesday – prepare & tape the walls, Thursday – primer & paint ceiling, Friday – apply first coat, Saturday – apply second coat & clean up. (Note: I am not a painter. I’m sure the ceiling often needs a second application. I’m just trying to point out that the whole project is a lot less intimidating if you break it up into smaller tasks versus looking at “paint room” on your to-do list for an entire week.)
Pen and Paper… or Apps?
There are many ways to organize your to-do list. The pen and paper method is always a favorite, but if you’re into technology, I recommend the following apps for tracking your to-do’s… but choose only one. You want your to-do list all in one place, so using more than one of these apps for that purpose will only lead to confusion.
- Wunderlist – For iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows, Android, Kindle Fire
- Springpad – For iPhone, iPad, Android and Web
- Evernote – For iPhone, Windows, Mac, Android, Blackberry, iPad, and iPod Touch
- Cozi – For iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry, Mac or Windows
I think we all experience a bit of satisfaction when we cross something off our to-do list. It’s a visual reminder that we did in fact accomplish something even when we feel like we’re constantly spinning our wheels and going nowhere. Why not achieve success every day by making your to-do list work for you instead of against you? Set aside time to plan and keep the list realistic. You’ll be on your way to being more productive in no time.
Crystal Sabalaske, owner of Cluttershrink, has appeared as an organizing expert on HGTV. Her organizing tips have also appeared in national publications such as Family Fun, Men’s Health and Parents magazines. For more organizing tips, please follow Crystal on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!