I used to think that keeping a to-do list was a common thing but actually it is very uncommon. What’s even less common is to have a to-do list that isn’t just a numbered list of things to be done one day.
Stress is produced in our lives when we don’t know what to do. The pressure of having a big project is different to stressing about the project. Pressure is a challenge that draws us up to higher levels. Stress is when our minds are overloaded because of that pressure – but I believe you can have pressure without stress! Stress comes when you don’t know what to do with your project.
The most common mistake with a to-do list is to just make a hope list or a project list. While you should keep a project list of things that you are working on, and a someday list for things to be done one day in the future but not necessarily to be done, the main to-do list is where your very next actions go. This is also called your “Next List”.
For example, “Clean the car” is not a task, it is a project, and therefore writing that down in your to-do list isn’t helpful, it’s daunting. Rather you should write down “Pick up vacuum cleaner to clean car”, and “Purchase car cleaning products.” This way you have the next action and relieve stress.
A to-do list is at it’s most powerful when every task:
- Is the next tangible and achievable action on the project (how do you tick “Go on holiday”, except when you’ve come back? Rather have “Investigate flights to Spain”)
- Is actionable and begins with a verb and thus is an action (this forces you to make it an action, “Investigate flights to Spain” and not just a statement, “Flights”)
- Is measurable and has a due date (setting a deadline for the task to be produced, like “Investigate flights to Spain by Tuesday” as opposed to it lingering in production perjury)
Tasks without these things are less likely to be done and more likely to be procrastinated over because they require extra thought before they are done (meaning you still don’t know what to do.)
The to do list is the backbone of your day. It is your runsheet that your day is played off. You will keep four lists that your tasks are organised around:
- Next List. This is where all your next tangible, actionable and measurable actions go.
- Project List. Here you keep a running list of the projects that you are actively working on, as opposed to projects that have been archived. If you have too many projects here then your alarm bells go off.
- Someday List. All the things that you want to do one day that don’t require a deadline.
- Waiting For List. Finally, you have a list for all the things that you are waiting to hear back and/or have delegated to others.
Having these four to-do lists means you really need a to-do manager that you can access online, on your phone, on your iPad, on your computer and so. I use Action Method which organises my tasks either according to the project that they are in, or in a flat Next List view. Action Method also allows me to delegate tasks from within the programme.
- What practical help do you need right now with running a to-do list? Let us know so that the Friends here can help.