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How to Make the Perfect To-Do List

If I had to pin point one specific habit that has helped keep me on track of both my professional and personal priorities, it’s creating a daily to-do list. The act of spending five minutes every morning before I start my day and getting clear on what todays highest priorities are helps give me clarity on what I need to focus on so I can eliminate any and all other distractions. I move from one task to the next without any resistance, and it’s a beautiful dance. By the end of the day I feel accomplished, satisfied and proud of the work I got done that day. In todays blog I want to discuss the challenges we face when we don’t create a list, my personal approach to creating them, the importance of a 24 hour mindset, and how to approach creating your own list.

Life Without a List

So what does life look and feel like without a to-do list? Not one you nor I want to live.

Lack of Organization: Without a to-do list, tasks may become disorganized and scattered, making it difficult to keep track of what needs to be done.

**Overwhelm and Stress:**The absence of a structured plan can lead to feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks, causing stress and anxiety.

Procrastination: Without clear priorities, there's a higher likelihood of procrastination as it's challenging to decide which tasks to tackle first.

Missed Deadlines: Without a systematic approach to managing time, deadlines may be overlooked, leading to missed opportunities or negative consequences.

Reduced Productivity: Lack of prioritization can result in spending time on less important tasks while neglecting more critical ones, leading to decreased overall productivity.

Memory Strain: Relying solely on memory to keep track of tasks can lead to forgetfulness, causing important responsibilities to slip through the cracks.

Ineffective Time Management: Without a to-do list, it's challenging to allocate time appropriately to each task, leading to inefficient use of time and energy.

Difficulty in Goal Achievement: Goals may be challenging to achieve without a clear plan and roadmap, hindering personal and professional development.

Lack of Accountability: Without a to-do list, it's easier to avoid taking responsibility for tasks, leading to a lack of accountability for one's actions.

Strained Relationships: Personal and professional relationships can be affected if commitments and promises are forgotten due to a lack of task management.

Poor Work-Life Balance: Without a to-do list, it can be challenging to separate work and personal life, leading to an imbalance that may negatively impact well-being.

Missed Opportunities: Failing to prioritize and plan may result in missing out on potential opportunities or failing to capitalize on existing ones.

Having a to-do list helps address these issues by providing a structured framework for managing tasks, setting priorities, and achieving goals. It serves as a valuable tool for personal and professional success, promoting efficiency, organization, and a sense of control over one's responsibilities.

My Personal Approach

Over the years, I have tested various approaches to managing my to-do list. However, the current system I have in place works best for me, and I will continue using it until it no longer serves me.

When I start my workday at my computer, I open a blank Notion page to create my daily to-do list. I prefer using digital tools because they allow me to access my list from different devices and eliminate the risk of losing it.

I divide my tasks into two categories: primary and secondary tasks.

Primary tasks are essential for my business and include activities such as writing podcast scripts, brainstorming brand partnership concepts, conducting coaching calls, and creating courses. These tasks contribute significantly to my business and are usually ones I cannot or do not want to outsource.

Secondary tasks are a mix of personal and professional activities. They can range from responding to emails and texts to catching up with family or friends, doing laundry, or taking the dogs for a walk. These tasks are important but may not be directly tied to my business.

To create my daily list, I consider what is on my calendar for the day and arrange the tasks in the order in which I plan to complete them. For example, today's list looks like this:

  • Work on solo pod
  • Send out newsletter
  • Brand partnership post
  • Create content with Kate
  • Catch up on emails
  • Call with Greg
  • Dinner with Zach + Danny

I follow this list sequentially and focus solely on the task at hand without thinking about the next one until the current task is completed. During each task, I activate Focus Mode on my phone to minimize distractions and stay focused.

Every 90 minutes, I take a break to stand up. During these breaks, I try my best to avoid scrolling on social media.

If I think of an important task that is not a priority for the day but still needs to be done, I add it to a separate running to-do list that serves as a second brain to track and store tasks that require attention at some point.

When the time is appropriate, I schedule these tasks on my calendar and include them in the respective day's to-do list.

24 Hour Mindset

One of the most important mindsets I have embraced is focusing on the present moment and the tasks at hand when creating and completing my daily to-do list.

It can be overwhelming to look at the big picture and all the tasks that need to be done. However, breaking them down into smaller steps makes it much easier for me to accomplish them.

Therefore, I find joy in both small and large achievements. They hold equal value to me because I believe that the process is more significant and valuable than the end result.

By thinking and operating in this manner, I have consistently stayed on track and crossed off numerous items from my to-do list. This has ultimately allowed me to achieve significant goals.

Two Important Lesson I’ve Learned

Two important lessons I've learned along the way are being realistic about what I can accomplish in a day and setting a fixed start and end time for work.

Being realistic about my daily goals sets me up for success. Even if there are only seven tasks on my to-do list for the day, I feel fulfilled when I can check off each one, knowing that I have accomplished everything I intended to do. If I were to make a longer list hoping to accomplish more, I would end up feeling like the day was a failure because of the unfinished tasks.

Establishing a fixed start and end time for work creates a sense of urgency, which helps me stay productive. Without this structure, I would lack the motivation to complete tasks in a timely manner, resulting in procrastination.

Creating Your List

Creating a to-do list is a personal process, and there are several decisions you can make to tailor it to your preferences and needs. Here are some key decisions to consider when creating a to-do list:

1. Paper or Digital:

Decide whether you prefer a traditional paper to-do list or a digital one using apps or software. Some people find the act of physically writing things down helpful, while others appreciate the convenience of digital tools.

2. Choice of Tool or App:

If you opt for a digital to-do list, choose a tool or app that aligns with your preferences. There are various options available, such as Todoist, Trello, Microsoft To-Do, or simple note-taking apps.

3. Task Categorization:

Decide how you want to categorize your tasks. You might organize them by project, priority, due date, or urgency. This helps in creating a clear structure for your to-do list.

4. Daily, Weekly, or Monthly Planning:

Determine the time frame for your to-do list. Some people prefer daily lists to stay focused, while others plan their tasks for the entire week or month. Choose a timeframe that suits your workflow.

5. Prioritization Method:

Choose a method for prioritizing tasks. This could include using a numbering system, color-coding, or other symbols to indicate the importance or urgency of each task.

6. Time Blocking:

Decide whether you want to incorporate time blocking into your to-do list. This involves allocating specific blocks of time to different tasks, helping you manage your time more effectively.

7. Flexibility and Adaptability:

Consider how flexible you want your to-do list to be. It's important to be adaptable to unexpected changes, so leave room for adjustments and additions as needed.

8. Regular Review:

Decide on a regular review schedule. Set aside time daily or weekly to review and update your to-do list, ensuring that it remains relevant and aligned with your goals.

9. Incorporating Personal and Professional Tasks:

Determine whether you want to combine personal and professional tasks on the same to-do list or keep them separate. This decision can depend on your preference for integrated or segmented planning.

10. Long-Term Goals:

Consider how your to-do list aligns with your long-term goals. Ensure that your daily or weekly tasks contribute to the broader objectives you have set for yourself.

11. Experimentation and Adjustment:

Don't be afraid to experiment with different approaches. Your to-do list is a tool that should evolve based on what works best for you. Be open to making adjustments as you learn more about your preferences and workflow.

Remember that the key is to find a system that suits your individual needs and helps you stay organized and productive. Regularly reassess and adjust your to-do list approach based on your experiences and changing priorities.

Questions From the Community

John: I adjust my list midday because of unforeseen set backs, is that normal or poor planning?

That's completely normal, and I'm glad to hear that you're giving yourself permission to make adjustments as needed. The goal of a to-do list is to identify what we want to accomplish in the day ahead and provide us with guidelines to follow. However, when something urgent arises, we have to be at peace with the fact that we may need to readjust our plans for the day. This is completely normal and okay to do.

Frank: How do yo define which tasks are the most important?

As for me, I constantly assess what needs to be done based on deadlines. Today, writing and producing this blog is one of my top priorities. Tomorrow, I will be focused on a different set of tasks. It is important to ask yourself, what are the 3-5 most important things I can do today and focus solely on them. While there is always more to do, prioritize the most important tasks and save the rest for tomorrow and the following days.

7-Day To-Do List Kickstart Challenge

Objective: Over the next 7 days, embark on a journey to boost your productivity and enhance your organization skills by creating and actively using a daily to-do list.

Day 1: The Setup

  • Start by choosing a to-do list format that suits you (digital app, paper, etc.).
  • Write down three tasks you've been meaning to complete but haven't yet.

Day 2: Prioritize with Purpose

  • Review your list from Day 1 and prioritize the tasks. Identify the most important one and mark it as your priority for the day.
  • Add two more tasks that need attention.

Day 3: Time Management Challenge

  • Assign estimated times for each task on your list.
  • Use time-blocking techniques to allocate specific time slots for your tasks throughout the day.

Day 4: Break It Down

  • Take a complex or larger task and break it down into smaller, actionable steps.
  • Add these steps to your to-do list.

Day 5: Reflect and Refine

  • Reflect on your experience so far. What worked well? What could be improved?
  • Adjust your to-do list format or strategy based on your reflections.

Day 6: Include Personal Goals

  • Introduce a personal goal or task to your to-do list. It could be related to self-care, learning something new, or spending time with loved ones.

Day 7: Celebrate Progress

  • Review your entire week's to-do lists and celebrate the tasks you've successfully completed.
  • Identify any patterns or habits you've developed and acknowledge the positive changes

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