How To Make Better To-Do Lists
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
Do you ever feel like your life is too crazy for a to-do list to help? Like, you have 18 text messages and your meeting got out late and you have to get the baby down for a nap, but she won’t lay still, and somewhere in there you have to eat your own lunch, feed the cat, and reload the car for the next trip to the next appointment. Not to mention you have no idea what’s for dinner, and how are you ever going to manage to get the floor swept (but you can’t stand walking on crumblies anymore!)? This was my life this morning. And it seems like every day.
Or maybe you are the kind of person who makes to-do lists all the time and gets frustrated or upset if you don't get your entire to do list finished. It bothers you. You can't do anything else until the list is all checked off or crossed off or blacked out. Your to-do list runs your life and you can’t figure out another way to manage everything, but it’s driving you crazy.
May I suggest another way? Make two to-do lists.
Wait. What? Is this what you mean by
When I was a Mary Kay consultant, I read Mary Kay Ash’s autobiography, Miracles Happen. It was fabulous and inspiring, no matter if you hate makeup or have no interest in sales - I very highly recommend it. But I digress. One thing she wrote stuck with me, and that was about how she managed her days. In the evening, she made a to-do list. A short one, with five or six tasks on it. They were the most important things she had to get done the next day. Of course, there was always more to do. But those few things were the ones she decided were most important, and absolutely had to get done. And the next morning, she had already eliminated many, many problems caused by to-do lists:
Having to spend time making out a list before you can start doing
Making a big long list and agonizing over what to do first because there were so many things
Looking at a long list and picking the easy things to do first, which usually means pushing back the important or big or hard things to tomorrow’s list...and the next day’s list...and the next day
Getting discouraged because you never finish the list (or letting your list run your life)
Confession: I would go nuts if I only had one, short to-do list. I would be constantly thinking about the other things I need to do, and worried that I would forget them.
This is why, when I start to feel overwhelmed, I make a big, long to-do list. This gets everything out onto paper. I am reassured because now I won’t forget anything. I include anything on my mind, from short, easy things like checking the mail and showering, to long-term projects like making a headboard for my bed and cleaning the car seat out. I even include errands (how many stops can I squeeze in before my toddler is sick to death of the car and even a cracker won’t keep her happy?).
Then I make my short list. What, out of the everlasting wave of tasks, must I absolutely get done today? I keep my lists together, where I can see them (usually on the dining room table) with a pen, so I never have to wander to cross something off. I keep the short list on top. Sometimes I get distracted and end up completing something on the long list while I am working on the short list. Never mind - I just cross it off the long list.
Here’s the best part about two lists: the long one never gets finished. In fact, I keep adding to it all the time, so I don’t forget things. But as the short list gets finished, I feel accomplished. I can always add more things to the short one if I get them all done. And when my long list starts to look ragged, I just make a new one, and transfer the incomplete things to my new long list.
For you list makers, making one more list might be easy, but the incomplete big list might be hard. For you non- list makers, even getting one done might be hard. Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes. You just might find that it works.
Are you a list maker? What are some of the problems with that kind of organization?
How do you solve those problems? Have you tried two lists? What works and what doesn’t?