“You’re the one who is slave to the to-do list,” he told me one afternoon. I don’t even remember what it was we were sparring about, just that he wasn’t doing something I thought he should be doing, something that was on my list but not on his. We both want to get more done, we just have different ways of getting there.
The fact is, he mostly doesn’t keep a list at all. I’m not actually advocating that practice, but mostly that’s because I have a bad memory and I’m easily overwhelmed, and having a list to refer to helps me with both of those things.
But do I want to be a slave to that list? No! I do not. And I’m sure you don’t want to be a slave to yours either. You want to feel like you are in charge of your own time. You want to get more done, but joyfully.
Your list should feel like a friend, a supportive guide, a path along and toward the life you want to be living. Not something you compare yourself to, or fall short at, or beat yourself up about. That is not helpful in any way.
The truth is, my list did often feel more like a big stick that I was trying not to let hit me than a friendly guide. So my guy’s comment brought me up short. I do want to get more done, but I don’t want to be a slave to my list. If he’s seeing it, that means I’m probably doing it, and I want to stop.
Here’s the secret about making a list:
You are in charge of deciding what to put on it.
Maybe that is obvious to everyone but me, but in that moment in time, I was not seeing it. I mean, yes, I was writing the list, but I was often copying over tasks that didn’t get done yesterday or last week and it was starting to really drag me down. No wonder I was grumpy with my guy about the list – I didn’t really want to do those things either!
There’s a better way, and I’m learning it. You can learn it, too.
Top 5 tips for awesome to do lists
- Check every item on your list against your priorities and life values. Is there anything way out of alignment? Get it off of there.
- Each item listed should take 30 minutes or less. If it is bigger, break it down into smaller tasks.
- Put fun things and rest on there, too. If you don’t have any of those, add some. Take off something else if you need to make room for them.
- Check your schedule before you make a list – make sure you have time for everything!
- Before you move something undone from a previous list, decide if you still want to or need to do it. Is it still in alignment with your priorities and values? Does it fit in this season of your life? If not, let it go.
3 bonus tips for using a to-do list (to actually get more done)
- Make sure the list is somewhere you will refer to it. That might be online (I like workflowy) or it might be on a cute pad of paper in the middle of the counter. You might want to use a bullet journal and keep it in your bag all the time. If you go to the effort of making a list, make sure you use it!
- Make it cute, but don’t overdo the effort. Maybe a simple pad of paper (I love these russel + hazel pads) or a cute notebook. But don’t make fancy bullet journal layouts a barrier to actually getting things on the list checked off and done. I like looking at fancy planners on Instagram, too, but I know that trying to make my notebook look like that is just another thing I’m going to feel like a failure at. So I don’t. A simple list with little boxes I fill in as I finish things works great.
- Pat yourself on the back for everything you actually complete. Celebrate a little! If your days are super busy with what feels like extra or distracting tasks, try making a “done!” list, just to give yourself some concrete evidence of all that you accomplish in a day. Make sure you celebrate your wins before moving on to the next task.
How do you feel about making lists? Are you a lister or a not-lister? What’s your biggest struggle with feeling like you are doing the things you want to? Leave a comment below and let me know.