To Do lists That Get Things Done​

Updated: Jan 29

For years we were all told to make a list if we wanted to get things done. Now the super-organised among us are slatting the to-do list and insisting on 12 different planners and journals if we want to feel productive. It can feel overwhelming and simply leave you doing nothing, getting nothing done and going nowhere. Long term productivity definitely benefits from some long term planning, but when you feel like you are sinking I still massively value the To-Do List. Here’s how to supercharge yours and actually start ticking stuff off.

how to write great to do lists

First things first you need to understand the difference between a to-do list and a brain dump. Both are equally valuable but very different. When you feel like overwhelm is hitting you it’s time to brain dump. I have a daily brain dump on my calendar just before bed. Keep a notepad of a pen next to your bed and drop into it anything that's on your mind. Just little bullet points, this isn’t an essay. It’s simply clearing your head for the best sleep possible. I also like to do a massively yearly brain dump in December as part of my planning for the year ahead. Grab the biggest piece of plan paper you have and empty your head. This could include but is certainly not limited to, goals, worries, gratitudes, habits you want to start or stop, friends you love/miss/want to ditch, nigglign tasks you never get round to doing, ideas for stuff (work, personal, family). Anything! If that squeaky door has been bugging you? dump it on the page. Some of these items require no further action than for you to just note that they were in your head and move on. The rest go onto your to-do list.


The big mistake people make is simply writing a list in one column. This either gives equal value to every task or makes unimportant tasks seem more important because of their place within the list. It also makes each task seem of equal length or magnitude. A two minute unimportant task could be third on the list but a 2 hour essential task could be number 10. This is where you need to send some time organising your list.


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By using this table you get a much better overview of what you have to do and where you should be spending your time. Getting the URGENT and IMPORTANT items done first and really questioning why the NON-URGENT and UNIMPORTANT tasks are even on there.

Setting an idea of how long something will take helps you to plan your time out better and makes you set realistic goals for what to get done in a day or week. It’s also helpful should you find a spare pocket of time. Maybe some got cancelled last minute or you finished something up faster than planned. You can just to the table and say “I have 15 minutes extra, what task is 15 minutes long?”.


Be very strict with which box each item ends up in, there is no point dumping the whole list into URGENT and IMPORTANT. Consider your personal goals, priorities and values. Plus think about what things will make the biggest difference. By doing “A” will you no longer need to do “B” or will “C” become much easier and faster if you do “D” first?


URGENT and IMPORTANT

To start with this is where you will need to focus most of your time and energy, but be warned spending your lift in this box is dangerous. It’s a trap that makes you feel like you are organised and productive, whereas in fact if you were organised and productive this box would have just a couple of quick tasks in it.


NON-URGENT and IMPORTANT

This is where the magic happens and where the truly organised people live. This box is a reflection of you thinking ahead, living by your values and priorities and designing your life your way. This is where the things that will make life easier long term live. The massive declutter, the putting routine in place, the planning of your goals. Once you start living in this box you will feel the difference. If nothing else your stress will reduce because you are not constantly battling the URGENT fire.


URGENT and UNIMPORTANT

Tasks in this box need interesting consideration. Why is an UNIMPORTANT task on your list? These usually appear due to external influences. Someone or something demanding something of you that doesn't fit with your beginning for life. These are often life admin things that we, unfortunately, can’t skip. Signing your child up for a club they want to do or getting the spare toilet unblocked because 3 kids and one toilet just isn’t working. You will usually find the more time you spend in NON-URGENT and IMPORTANT the fewer items start appearing in this box. One of my favourite things to do with these items is to outsource them. That could be to a VA, a cleaner, a mother-in-law, your partner or even one of the smalls. Just because it is UNIMPORTANT to you doesn’t mean it’s not IMPORTANT to someone else. Let them do it instead.


NON-URGENT and UNIMPORTANT

Aaahhh the most dangerous box of them all. Again, why is an UNIMPORTANT task on your list? These are usually brain dump items that are actual things but don’t really matter, they are "sort of nice to-dos”. The best way I can explain these tasks is with an example. In January 2018 I had maybe 3 items in this box. Two are gone and one is still there. One got straight deleted, one is killing off a weed in the garden, so I’m waiting for summer, one was to make a Christmas cardholder. I had 10 months plus before this item would be needed (NON-URGENT) and we had survived December 2017 without one (UNIMPORTANT). But I really wanted one and hadn’t found anything I liked in the shops. I have painted wooden pegs gold and added glitter. I have purchased green ribbons to glue them to. But there was always something more important or interesting to do in my monthly crating time. Once November 2018 hit it became an URGENT task and I got it done, but it hadn’t crept up on me. I knew it was there, patiently sitting in my NON-URGENT and UNIMPORTANT box. It was buzzing in my head bugging or distracting me. This is why this box is still important to have, even though its contents are UNIMPORTANT. It allows you to get it out of your head and either let it go or put it at an appropriate time in the future.


BONUS TIPS

You may also want to list items by personal priority in each box.

Try and get the hardest items done first “eat that frog”.

Learn to time block your calendar so you stick to what you should be doing when.

Once you have got to grips with this concept start using the app TRELLO, to break down your bigger tasks, set deadlines and get this down in smaller bite-sized chunks.


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