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6 Excruciatingly Simple Steps to Creating an Awesome To-Do List

Image via Creative Commons, M-AlPhotography’s Flickr photostream. (Source)

Written on 9/29/2008 by Grace Kepplin. You can find Grace at Face to the Sun where she writes to share some of what she’s learned, puzzle about what she’s yet to experience, and to make sense of this crazy world we live in. Photo Credit: purpleslog

I think I wrote my first To-Do list in 4th grade when I was trying to juggle a geography test, getting a merit badge I really wanted, and catching grasshoppers with my little brother. Lists have been faithful companions ever since but there are right and wrong ways to create them. Taking the wrong approach and you risk setting yourself up for failure.

First, remember that you never will finish all the items on your list. If you do, you haven’t put enough items on it.

Rather, consider the list as a planning tool, an anti-anxiety device (if it’s on the list you won’t forget it), a push in the behind to get the engine started, and a rationale in the name of getting something done.

Once you’ve grasped that thought, use these strategies to make your to-do list even better.

Then I tried writing lists in the office when I first got there in the morning and found, often as not, that I hit the deck running, diving into the first crisis of the day. The list got, sort-of, put together by 10 am or so, when I came up for air. By then the day evaporated in front of me.

What I finally discovered was the art of the 5 minute list – composed after breakfast, before hitting the road. The items that I remembered then, away from the office, turned out to be the ones most important to the day ahead.



It wasn’t until much later that I learned the magic of Pareto’s 80/20 percent rule. Eighty percent of the value of anything comes from the 20 percent of the most important items. You just gotta figure out which 20 percent to focus on.

That’s why you start fresh (see #1 above). If your original list has 20 items on it, save that list, but rewrite your new one with only the 4 most crucial items.



Then you can get on to the really big stuff with those three items already crossed off your list. Sure it’s playing a game with yourself, but it’s a big psychological boost when you most need it—facing the start of another challenging day.







The rest is just bells and whistles. Use your PDA or computer to set up those long-term ticklers. Break down big projects into smaller doable pieces. Group phone calls together. Turn off the alarm on your email and only check at specified times of the day.

You know that you’ll be working as hard and as fast as you can. That’s what we do. But accept the fact that only so much can be done within an 8 or 10 or 12 hour day. Then your to-do list will become an ally, not an enemy.


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