As a wife, mother of four, volunteer, runner, and entrepreneur, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many tasks I have on my plate. The only way I can function well is by staying organized. For me, staying organized means keeping a to-do list. To-do lists come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. My favorite? A medium-sized Post-It. The number of items that fit on a Post-It seem manageable to me and not overwhelming. And there is something very satisfying about finishing my list, crumpling it into a wad, and throwing it away.
When is the best time of day to write a to-do list? Some say that it’s at night. There are some definite benefits to this. It’s much easier to fall asleep at night when your impending responsibilities have been removed from swirling around, inside your head, and put somewhere else (your list). When you start your morning, you can hit the ground running with your list that is ready to go. Others like to have a quiet morning, contemplating the day as they derive their to-do list. Find what is more effective for you. The important thing is to create one and to use it. Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, said, “When people don’t take control, they go through their days passively. They go to meetings, they answer email, and when they get to the end of the day, what they’ve done is responded to other people’s priorities and not their own.”
Here are 5 simple steps to creating and using an effective to-do list:
1. Write down all of your tasks you need to complete. Break down the larger tasks into smaller tasks that you can achieve. You may want to have separate to-do lists (work, home, etc.).
2. Assign a level of priority. “A” means urgent, “B” means important, and “C” means low priority. If you have too many urgent items, then take a second look at your list and reassign the priority level.
3. Now rewrite your list based on level of priority with all of your urgent items at the top, and so on.
4. Strike out each item as it is completed.
5. When all of the tasks have been completed, crumple your list into a wad and throw it away.
What about that pesky task that always seems to make it onto the to-do list but never seems to get completed? You know the one. Mine is “clean the baseboards.” You feel bogged down and guilty for not completing that one task. And then you can’t throw away your list, because you have one ridiculous task that you can’t seem to finish. Take it off. Remove the pesky task altogether. You will feel a sense of relief and be able to focus your attention on other things. In a little while, whether it’s in a week or a month, put that pesky item on the list and try again.
Now, get to work.
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I'm Erin! I'm an MBA graduate with over 15 years of experience in HR, small business management, academia, and social media. I am an author, wife, mother, half marathon runner, and lover of the outdoors.