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Monday, February 22nd, 2010

My To Do List Hates Me by Meredith Schwartz

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Take Welcome to Organization Blog Fest 2010! I thought the best way to start the week would be with Meredith Schwartz of Penelope Loves Lists, and her advice on how to handle a Daily To-Do List. Take it away Meredith!!!

-Becky
We all make the Daily To Do List. Problem is, most of the time, we do it wrong. There, I said it.

This list, which should be our problem solver, becomes the problem itself. Like some huge, looming, cartoonish thing from our nightmares, the incomplete items from each day’s lists grow until we feel defeated under their collective weight.

Instead, you should have two To Do Lists, one called the “Daily To Do List”, one we’ll call the “Overall To Do List”. You can think of your own pithy names when you adopt this system.

The first step is to know, each day, what your most important tasks are. If you don’t know what your true priorities are, either at work or at home, your list will be a meaningless schedule of tasks. If you’re unsure as to how to prioritize, read this book. If you know what you truly need to do each day, you can then set about step two.

Each evening before finishing work, make tomorrow’s Daily To Do List. This should take less than 5 minutes to do.

This list should have 3-4 of your highest priority items on it, each one with SPECIFIC goals, like this:

  1. Check in with pending clients  - 10 clients
  2. Get product shipment ready for Monday
  3. 1pm Meeting with Jennifer
  4. …If I get that done, I’ll move to:

  5. Work through sales leads – 12 calls
  6. Emails – spend 1 hour getting email inbox cleaned out.

See how specific each item is?

Also, notice that, by separating it into items 1-3, and then 4 and 5, you give yourself room for the day to actually happen. Things take longer than we expect. Emergency items come up. You set yourself up for success by ensuring your top 3 items get done. Then, if you are able to move to items 4 and 5  (which are also very specific and serve to “chunk out” larger projects) you can feel you got ahead by the end of the day, rather than always feeling overwhelmed and behind.

While I use my favorite Bob’s Your Uncle grid paper notebook to keep my daily to do list in line, I’ve also had great success with the online tool Teux Deux. I like that it doesn’t try to be all things to all people. It’s super simple graphic interface just enables you to quickly and easily do what you’re there for: keep and update your daily task list.

Whether you use paper and pen to create your list, or an online tool, if you know what your priorities are and are specific with the items you put on your list, you’ll end each day with a feeling of effectiveness. And, maybe, you’ll have just enough extra energy to go get a margarita. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

What strategies do you use when creating your Daily To Do List? What’s working for you and what isn’t? Please share them with us in the comments section.

Meredith Schwartz is the Founder and Editor of Penelope Loves Lists, an organization inspiration blog. She’s a girl with a To Do List and she knows how to use it. Meredith and her fellow readers make no apologies for their love of lists, notebooks, pretty office supplies and all manner of cool organizational tools. Are you a Penelope?

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  1. Melissa at Monday Morning Knits says:

    February 22nd, 2010 at 2:07 pm (#)

    I can really relate to “To Do List is My Enemy” problem. I seem to always be battling making one and sticking to it. I really like how Meredith recommends breaking it up into the highest priority jobs first and then the secondary jobs to complete if there’s extra time. Great advice, Meredith!

  2. Jolene says:

    February 22nd, 2010 at 2:24 pm (#)

    Oh so THAT’S why my “To Do” list still contains items from July 2009!I Okay, Top 3 specific items per day, a couple of extra credit items. With the goal of getting the Top 3 done early on in the day–love this idea and starting to implement it. Thanks Meredith!

  3. Becky says:

    February 22nd, 2010 at 2:33 pm (#)

    Meredith, How do you feel about writing things on the list you’ve already done, just so you can cross something off? THat’s my usual M.O.!

  4. Nancy Paris says:

    February 23rd, 2010 at 12:47 pm (#)

    My husband and I have our own company and sometimes our schedules can get very hectic. We have started a new Sunday tradition where we plan out the week ahead while making Sunday dinner. I get out the weekly calendar and we fill it in then stick it on the fridge including family activites and anything else that’s coming up for the week. For the longer term tasks I put them in the parking lot and if we get to them great – otherwise they continue on to next week’s tasks. Such a simple activity has helped our productivity immensely.

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