To Do or Not To Do Lists

I have a love-hate relationship with to do lists.  I love the idea, I love writing them, I love crossing things off of them…but I HATE that never seem to get the all the things done and they sit on my desk, taunting me.  My days are so insanely busy that I barely get to writing my to do lists let alone finish the tasks listed on them.  I also get in the habit of telling myself “I don’t need to waste time writing that down, I’ll remember”…guess what? I never remember!  My biggest issue is that I don’t take the time each day to write my to do list and I am not consistent about checking the lists that I do make.  They say it takes 21 days to make a habit and I think this is a pretty great habit to make in my quest for reducing my daily chaos.

A few months ago I heard this great minisode podcast from The Art of Charm (my favorite podcast series) on making more effective to do lists using “SMART goals”. The concept is from Charles Duhigg author of “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” and “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeline. The concept takes your “stretch goal” and breaks it into smaller, more manageable actions.  Most stretch goals are large and can’t be done in a day, but they can be broken into smaller, actionable parts. When we have huge projects hanging over us we put them off because we never seem to have a large enough block of time to get the whole thing done. Maybe it’s just not realistic to get it all done in one swoop, maybe smaller, SMART goals are the way to get things done.
(For more info on SMART goals, check out Charles Duhigg’s website and a nice, easy to follow infographic)

Studies show that writing to do lists with more than a few items on them overwhelm us and cause us to shut down.  I know this is true for me.  I write multiple huge projects on each to do list and never even start, most of the time I don’t ever even check the list!  I wonder what would happen if I break each item into SMART goals?  Maybe I set a reminder for myself to check my list?  Maybe its stuck on my computer so I can’t avoid seeing the list all day?  Something to get myself in the habit of not just writing my to do list but checking it.

Why to do lists fail:
-They are too long so we get overwhelmed and do nothing on them.
-We don’t take the time to write things on our to do lists so we forget the tasks we need to remember.
-We forget to check our to do lists so tasks just sit on them and never get done.

How to make a better to do list:
-Start with one stretch goal that is broken into SMART goals. Work on these smaller parts of the stretch goal over a number of days instead of trying to carve out a huge block of time that we never have.
-Add smaller, obtainable goals for our day that only take 5-15 minutes each.
-Set a reminder or post the to do list where we will see it often.

I am a very visual person and like pretty things, even lists.  I have a few great to do list note pads that are enjoyable to look at. It may seem silly but using them makes me more motivated to not just look at my lists but also to write them. I also just bought a planner that has plenty of room under each day as well as a checklist area per week.

My goal for the next 21 days is to take five minutes per morning to write out my daily list, including the SMART goals for my weekly/monthly stretch goal.  Then I will either post it on my computer monitor or set myself a reminder each hour to check my list and try to check something off. Wish me luck, I am going to need it!

What are your tricks when you make to do lists? What works and what doesn’t work for you?

If you would like to check out the minisode from Art of the Charm that I mention in this blog, check it out here:

2 thoughts on “To Do or Not To Do Lists

  1. Hello Amber, Nice post thank you for the tips and for keeping it real.

    I like to use the Full Focus planner, it helps create a plan to accomplish specific goals, daily tasks, it provides a space to established beginning and end of day rituals. I especially like that it reinforces the need for down time and to enjoy the weekends. My only complaint is that I would prefer it as a spiral bound. https://fullfocusplanner.com/?v

    Liked by 1 person

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