HOW TO MASTER THE TO DO LIST
Happy FRI-YAY, everyone! There are so many articles, listicles, gurus and coaches that have a “secret sauce” for getting it all done – and all of them have merit. Because at the end of the day – you have to find the system that works for YOU. Today I’ll be sharing my personal method for “doing it all” – momming, running multiple businesses, being a wife, running a household, all the things. I have a few tried-and-true tips that work brilliantly for me and my coaching clients!
HOW TO MASTER THE TO DO LIST
THE MOST COMMON TIME MANAGEMENT MYTHS
The first step to reclaiming all those lost hours in your day is to simply identify the myths holding us back. We can’t fix problems we don’t see as problems.
MYTH ONE: You need a super structured to-do list.
This can actually HINDER your work. I love a good to-do list, and absolutely preach them as a good tool, however: getting sucked into the idea that you HAVE to finish every single thing on your list or you’ve “failed” is a common feeling. Let’s cross that OFF of your mental list right now: somedays you aren’t going to complete everything on your list and that’s okay. There are some tools I’ll teach you today that will help you be as productive as possible, but life STILL happens and sometimes we get off track. That’s okay, we can try again tomorrow.
My favorite formula for a loosely structured to-do list that psychologically helps me get more done in my day is my “sandwich method”:
- EASY WIN
- SHORT TASK
- LONG TASK
- SHORT TASK
- EASY WIN
Starting your list off with an “easy win” gets you excited to continue to complete your list. Ending with an easy win helps you feel accomplished and ready for the next day. Sandwiching your short tasks + long tasks will keep you motivated throughout the day.
MYTH TWO: Undivided focus is the only way to be successful.
Ahh, the myth of undivided focus. I think every single one of us with children will roll our eyes when someone tells us that we need complete undivided focus on our to-do list. That just isn’t possible. We need to be better at navigating the distractions in order to keep being productive amidst the distractions. One of the most cited time management tips is that successful outcomes come from hours and hours of completely focused, uninterrupted time. The reality is that creativity and productivity respond best to routine. The best way to achieve a large goal is to break it up into manageable pieces and complete those tasks on schedule. Always plan some extra time beyond what you think you’ll need. Try to get into a rhythm of work that suits your internal clock, and be consistent about achieving daily goals. If you get interrupted, try your best to get to a quick stopping point, handle the distraction or interruption, and then return to the point you were in your task.
MYTH THREE: You need to wake up at 5am in order to be productive.
Ahh this one is my least favorite. I will never be a 5am waker – I do my best work at night. My biggest productivity advice is to work WITH your internal clock. Take a week to mark down every day which time of day you feel bursts of energy or productivity. Take this into account and write it down. After the week is over, see if you can identify any specific blocks of time that you can make a routine out of.
You can be productive any time of day that it makes sense for you. Just because you read somewhere that the wealthiest people in America wake up at 4am and never rest doesn’t mean that needs to be true for you. If you are going to be productive consistently, you need to be realistic about your routine. Don’t try to fit something in that isn’t going to be something you can realistically stick to. I know for a fact I will never be able to wake up earlier than 6:00am and be productive. So I am not going to make that a staple of my routine. If I did that, I would have more days than not where I started late and got my morning off to a rough start. I’d start off my day feeling like I already failed. Don’t do that to yourself! Give yourself the best chance you can to feel excited about your routine.
IF HOWEVER you DO want to get up earlier and make that a part of your routine, the best and least disruptive way I’ve found to do that is by taking two weeks to get to your desired time. Go in waves – for example, if you currently wake up at 7:30am and you want to wake up at 6:15, here’s what your two weeks would look like:
Days 1-2: Wake up at 7:15
Days 4-7: Wake up at 7:00
Days 8-10: Wake up at 6:45
Days 10-12: Wake up at 6:30
Days 12-14+: Wake up at 6:15
That way you gradually allow yourself to wake up at that time and allow your body an adjustment period rather that just setting your clock to 6:15 and hitting the snooze until you inevitably end up awake at 7:30.
Tools to make time management a breeze
Let’s go over my standard master to-do list board. Here are the lists I personally include: Appointments, Notes, To-Dos, Done
I always recommend putting your work and personal appointments together because that way you never double book yourself. I found when I had to check multiple calendars, it just wasn’t going to work. I would double book or forget about plans/meetings or run behind. It just didn’t make sense. Now ALL of my appts – work and personal – live together with color coordinated labels.
How to identify what is personally holding you back with keeping yourself on track
We all feel like there aren’t enough hours in our day. But what if we just needed to look at our hours differently. Put all the things you NEED to do in one box – appointments, kids schedules, client meetings, deadlines, etc. Put all the things you WANT to do (and would be nice if they got done) in another box. Then schedule your full week out. I sit down every Sunday for 30 minutes, take inventory of all my scheduled client meetings, appointments, etc., and figure out a loose list for each day. This way, each morning I am prepared and ready for the week. I don’t have any surprises during the week and always feel better knowing what’s coming.
Give yourself a two week adjustment period and then re-assess what your new routine. Does it feel easy + are you excited to implement it each day? Do you feel resistance in certain areas? Where are you getting that push back? What makes you feel anxious about this new routine? After the two weeks (and I really do suggest two weeks to allow yourself to settle into the new routine), take your notes and re-evaluate.
When you’ve figured out where you are getting hung up – make a plan to tackle it. FOR EXAMPLE: if you notice that the reason you are getting behind / not completing your list is because you are spending too much time on social media, set phone limits to minimize this distraction. Turn your phone on Do Not Disturb when you are able to. Maybe you realize that the reason you are falling behind each week is because your kids need your attention and you can’t predict when they’ll need you. Practice getting to a stopping point before seeing what they need so that you don’t stop your work mid-thought (it’s nearly impossible to get back into that identical headspace again).
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