How to make a “To-Do” list

Do your To-Do lists make sense?  Is your office a rainbow of sticky notes? Do you feel overwhelmed? Keep reading.

“I have so many things on my to-do list I don’t even know where to start,” says most people. 

There is a science to, and a reason for, making lists. It wasn’t until I walked into my room and saw the rainbow of sticky notes that I realized how inexperienced I was at making lists (and saving trees). Dr. Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto is all about the impact checklists have in reducing errors and maximizing efficiency in various settings like the operating room or the cockpit of a plane.

Full disclosure, I am not a list guru. But I wanted to share some ideas about making lists that have helped me tremendously. Here is a list about how to make lists.

Trust Yourself

Does your “To-Do” list look like the sticky note below?

Do you put too many things on your list? Most of us add tasks to our to-do list without any thought at all. And many items on our lists don’t really need to be there. For example, if there are tasks on your list that are regular habits that normally don’t require reminding then I encourage you to ask yourself “why are these on my list?” If you make your bed every day and take a shower without needing a reminder, then you don’t need to add it to your list.

For those of us who are forgetful, only include the tasks that you frequently forget. We want to work those memory muscles and not let them atrophy. It might be more comfortable for us to have everything on a list, but that doesn’t mean it’s best for us. 

Three Lists, One Location

It isn’t helpful or efficient to keep lists all over your home, your car, and your office. One long list is hard enough to keep track of. Multiple lists in multiple locations are just a recipe for frustration and irritation. Pick one location for your to-do list. Consider using an APP on your phone, like “notes,” OR one small notebook. Once you’ve decided on a location, make three separate lists and label each “P1, P2, and P3.” The “P” stands for “priority.” See the chalkboard below.

Priority List 1 (P-1)

This list is for tasks you must complete within 24 hours. This does not mean what you’d hope or prefer to complete. If it can wait more than 24 hours, it doesn’t go on the list. In other words, the tasks listed on P-1 (or “P1 tasks”) are not casual tasks. P-1 tasks are near emergency-level tasks. These include deadlines coming up for work (if due within 24 hours), personal financial deadlines (if due within 24 hours), daily chores around the house (if required daily), daily medication reminders, daily exercise, or homework assignments (if due within 24 hours).

Priority List 2 (P-2)

This list is for tasks you must complete within one month. This does not mean tasks you’ve been meaning to do or “home projects” you’ve been wanting to do (unless you must do them within one month for a specific reason). Note how P-2 level tasks are not emergencies but they aren’t to be ignored either. They hang around because they are important enough to make themselves present but not popular enough to draw everyone’s attention.

Priority List 3 (P-3)

This list is for tasks you must complete within six months. This is where you put those home projects and nonurgent work-related tasks. P-3 tasks are the lowest priority tasks. These tasks are the ones that can wait.

Here is a sample:

The MTI Method

The method for completing tasks is equally as important as making the lists. I am going to show you a very simple method for completing your tasks. You must remain disciplined!

All P-1 tasks must be either completed or unavailable before moving on to P-2 tasks. All P-2 tasks must be either completed or unavailable before moving on to P-3 tasks.

Start with your P-1 tasks. Try to get as many of them completed as you can. If you cannot do one of the tasks because the store is closed that day or you don’t have transportation, then you are allowed to move on to P-2 tasks so long as all tasks on the P-1 list are either completed or undoable.
 
In the beginning, you might be confused as to where to put a task. That’s okay! As you move through your tasks, you’ll slowly become more familiar with labeling your tasks. It’s a learning process!
 
Remember, no P-2 tasks unless all P-1 tasks are completed OR you are unable to do them. And by unable to do them I mean legitimate reasons. If you have the ability to do the task, then refer to the Nike motto below.
It will take some practice and some trial and error, but it will help declutter your life and improve your efficiency and productivity without feeling overwhelmed. Allow yourself to make some mistakes along the way. It’s expected. It’s how we learn. 

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