31 January 2011

Five "To Do" list hacks

My dear Felicity,
Sometimes it is the little things that help us the most.  Following are a few simple hacks for the humble "to do" list that take it from mundane to magnificent.

1.  Only put tasks on your to-do list that can actually be done.  
This seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?  But glance down your to-do list and you might see the nebulous "Car Inspection".  Do you seriously intend to personally perform a 54 point inspection, emissions testing, and slap a new sticker on the windshield?  Of course not.  In reality, you have to get the city & state registration stickers  and touch base with your hubby before you can schedule an inspection and bring your car in to the mechanic.  The to-do list should have the next do-able task:  "Register Camry @ town office", and "e-mail Dagbert re: possible car inspection dates"  Those are single tasks that can actually be done and checked off.

When you're scanning your list, a project (several small related tasks with a single outcome) short circuits your brain...there's not actually something written there that can be done, and you end up passing it over time and again until it's at a critical level where you have to deal with it.  Take a look at your lists, and learn to only write tasks on your to-do list that can actually be done.  If you have a multi-step project, figure out the next do-able step, and write that on your to-do list, not the title of the whole project.
~ concept from Getting Things Done by David Allen

2.  Assign each item on your to-do list a time slot.
It's easy to overestimate your own awesomeness.  I can't tell you how many times I have had fifteen 30 minute tasks planned for a 4 hour afternoon!  Prayerfully assign a rough time slot for each task you have on your to-do list. Once you get in the habit of scheduling your to-do lists, you have a much more realistic picture of what can actually be accomplished.
~ concept from the Girltalk website, Carolyn Mahaney

3.  Keep a "running" to-do list.
These are simply tasks that need to be done during this week, but not necessarily today.  When an item pops into your head:  "Ooo!  I need to pick up lion noses at the party store for my Sunday School lesson this week", it goes on the running to-do list.  Each time you make up your to-do list for the day, check the running to-do list to see if there are any tasks that could or should be added to your list.
~concept from many sources, including Denise Schofield's Confessions of an Organized Homemaker

4.  Don't put routine items or things that can be done in less than 2 minutes on a list.  Just do them.
Do dishes.  Run laundry.  Make bed.  Honey, if these things are popping up on your to-do list, you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  Routine daily household and personal grooming tasks should not have to be written down to be accomplished.  Get off the phone.  Put down that book.  Do your job!  Unless you have toddlers, in which case you get a free pass until they're 5.  You may want to pencil in a shower before you forget....
Very often I can take just a few moments and accomplish a task before it goes on the list.  In the example in #1, I'd text or e-mail Dagbert about the car inspection rather than write it on my list because it only takes seconds.

5.  The Timed To-Do
A quirky but effective idea is to have lists of tasks that only take 5 or 10 minutes. When you find yourself with a few odd minutes, head for these lists rather than wasting the time.  Ideas abound on the internet and include everything from rounding up pet toys to chopping celery.

Remember Sweetie, "only God gets his to-do list done".  A list is simply a tool to keep you focused and bless your family. It's pretty easy to overwhelm ourselves with everything we think we "should" be doing.  I hope these few hacks will help you learn to tweak your to-do list so that it serves and motivates you rather than discouraging you.

Love and a big hug,

P.S.  Your daddy used to say "If you don't have a list, you'll be listless"  He made it a habit to make a list for the day, and encouraged me to do the same when my energy and motivation were low.

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