To Do Lists Don’t Have to Be a Drag

I’ve heard many people lament about to do lists:

“I hate them. They make me feel trapped.”

“I never finish them so what’s the point?”

“To do lists are such a bummer because there’s never anything fun on the list.”

If you nodded your head at least once as you read those utterances, prepare to readjust your mindset.

“I hate them. They make me feel trapped.”

The purpose of to do lists is to help us remember what we need to get done. Ideally, we have listed the absolutely critical steps we need to take that day in order to improve our personal life or work life – or at least keep some part of our life above water. A to do list should feel freeing because you’ve decided on your priorities for the day and will do what it takes to make them happen. When you complete your priorities, you lower your stress levels and increase your confidence and sense of accomplishments, which motivates you to stay productive. If you call that feeling trapped, then I want to feel trapped!

“I never finish them so what’s the point?”

If you have unfinished items on your to do list on a regular basis, you are most likely skipping a critical step – time estimation. Many people create their daily to do lists based on stream of conscious, and not necessarily because those items are priorities. As mentioned earlier, your list should consist of the priorities. Each priority should have a time estimation. How long should it take in a perfect world to finish that task? Given that we don’t live in a perfect world and have to deal with interruptions or technology glitches or flakey people, how much extra time should we pad onto that ideal time. This is your time estimation. Based on what you already have scheduled for your next day – meetings, meeting debrief time, commute times, phone conferences, etc. – how much time do you have left in your day to complete your tasks? Based on the time you have left, which priority tasks will you have time to complete? That is how you create a realistic to do list that you can actually finish.

“To do lists are such a bummer because there’s never anything fun on the list.” Well, this depends on your goal for the list. You are allowed to schedule fun to make sure that it happens! Check out the photo of my to do list:

This was for my birthday weekend. It just so happened that our annual city holiday landed on the Friday of my birthday weekend, so we had three days to celebrate! I wanted my weekend to consist of an 8-mile training walk for the Camino de Santiago, completion of household chores, helping my husband with his editing project, and the opportunity to use four different varietal-specific wine glasses that were given to us as a gift at a class. Drinking wine means eating food. That’s a lot to accomplish in one weekend, but we knew we could do it if we planned…our to do list.

To do lists don’t have to look perfect. Spelling doesn’t count. They can be on scraps of paper or in a digital app. What makes them a successful tool is when planning, intentional selection of priorities and time estimation are used to develop them.

Your to do list doesn’t have to be a drag…unless you want it to be.

For additional help with creating productive to do lists, be sure to check out Chapter 9 Get It All Done in 24 Hours: Turn To-Do Lists into Done Lists in The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer.

About Helene Segura, M.A. Ed., CPO®

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