Here’s An Easy System To Get You Off The Couch and Help You Make “To-Do” Lists That Actually Get Done

A few weeks ago, Sara asked me to go to the store and get ingredients for burritos. And by “get ingredients” she didn’t mean drive by Chipotle.

🙁

On the plus side, this was a pretty big step in our relationship, since she usually relegates me to remedial tasks like wiping the counters or putting away the dishes afterwards. Actually trusting me with the quality of a meal? We were finally taking it to the next level!

“Great!” she said, as she stuffed an inordinately long list into my hands.

“Wow, THIS many things go into a burrito?”

The doubt was already starting to cloud my vision.

Where was the store again?

Wait…what’s my name?

Somehow, I made it up there and managed to work my way down the list. I stood in line behind twenty people buying one thing of toothpaste and was home in about 3 hours. Mission accomplished.

Until…

“Where the cilantro….and where are the green chiles?!” Sara asked.

It seems I’d forgotten some items.

Ok…confession time: I’d completely missed those items.

Why?

Well, to be honest, I didn’t even see them. The store was just exhausting. It was full of lunatic kids who’d just gotten home from school, it was noisy and I just wanted to get home.

On a list of about twenty items, even though I’d successfully picked up eighteen of them…I felt like a failure.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

You work the whole day to get things done. You have a to-do list. It SORTA works…but at the end of the day….you’re never really happy with your progress.

You never quite feel satisfied.

You never feel like you’ve done enough.

More often than not, you’re never able to complete everything on your list.

Don’t worry — you’re not alone.

If you constantly use lists, post-its, spreadsheets or apps to set daily goals for yourself, but still find yourself slipping further and further behind and failing to finish daily or weekly goals…then these strategies are for you.

Read on!

Side note: if you’re feeling lazy and you don’t want to read the entire article, you can always download the To Do List Cheat Sheet here — it has all the important parts of the article to help you implement immediately.

 

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One of the main problems with traditional to-do lists is that they lack prioritization. We see them as just linear lists of objectives without prioritization. Remember my shopping list for the burritos:

  1. Tortillas
  2. Cheese
  3. Sour Cream
  4. Cilantro
  5. Rice
  6. Guacamole
  7. Salsa (mild and hot)
  8. Meat (beef and chicken)
  9. Old El Paso seasoning mix
  10. Black beans
  11. Refried beans
  12. Green chiles
  13. Corn

Think about how the typical person tackles a list like this.

You get in the store, start rolling down the aisles and look for the items. No particular order, really — it’s more like “check the list…check the aisle…check the list…check the aisle” until you find everything.

(It helps if the bulk of this stuff is in the ambiguous, slightly offensive “ethnic foods” aisle…but I digress…)

Inevitably, you miss one or two key items — so you have to traipse back across the store a few times before you collect everything. Why does this happen?

Because you don’t treat grocery shopping seriously!

There’s no plan in place and no prioritization. It’s a pretty disorganized process. That’s why it takes you forever and you STILL miss things!

When you’re at the store shopping, you don’t really feel like it matters which aisle you start in, or what order you pick things up in. But this isn’t a grocery list. This your DAY. This is your LIFE.

The order and prioritization of your daily tasks is paramount. Not every item on your daily to-do list should get equal priority. Why do you treat them as such?

For instance, yesterday I did a brain dump into my notebook and these were the objectives I came up with for the day:

  1. Follow up with editors (5 different online publications)
  2. Client meeting
  3. Add Olark chat back to the site
  4. Email a tribe member back about something
  5. Write 2,000 words on mega post
  6. Upload new videos to Freelance Domination course
  7. Write Weds/Friday posts for the blog

It’s tempting so write this list down and immediately start hacking away at it like a shopping list. But that’s not the smartest way.

If I look at it, I can see that some items are time sensitive — they need to come first. Others take more mental energy — they need to happen at the beginning of the day, while I’m fresh. Some are just things I want to do, but won’t really move me forward, per se.

The new list might look like:

  1. Client meeting
  2. Upload new videos to Freelance Domination course
  3. Write Mon/Weds posts for the blog
  4. Write 2,000 words on the mega post
  5. Follow up with editors
  6. Email back tribe member
  7. Add Olark chat back to the site

Notice now that the two things directly related to making income are now prioritized first, followed by the most intellectually challenging items, followed by the more rote tasks.

Now, this list is set up so that even if I only finish HALF of the items, the most important things are taken care of.

Which brings up a good point — what happens to your list if you don’t finish all the items on a given day?

 

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So you prioritized your to-do list — and in doing so, prioritized your life.

Good. Very good, young padawan.

Now, if you’re even remotely busy (like we all are) there’s a 99% chance you’re not going to finish everything you listed — even if you organized the list well.

What happens to the items you don’t get to for the day?

When you aren’t able to finish your to-do list for the day, it’s REALLY easy to get quickly overwhelmed by an entire backlog of things you haven’t gotten to yet — and that makes it impossible to accomplish your most important tasks.

You have 3 options for incomplete tasks:

  1. Rollover
  2. Delegate
  3. Drop it

1.) Rollover

This is the most tempting option.

If you didn’t finish something yesterday, just roll it over into tomorrow’s list, right? Sometimes this is ok — but you have to be careful. If you rollover too many “non-critical” items for too many days in a row, you’ll end up with a list of 73 things like “refill toilet paper roller.” Not efficient. Takes up too much mental space.

Try to rollover 1-2 items per day max.

2.) Delegate

Some things still need to get done…but after prioritizing your list, and trying to roll them over for a day or two… you realize that you just can’t be the one who does them.

When this is the case, time to delegate.

This happened to me when I realized that I had a dozen little WordPress issues that needed fixing — and my “cue” was clogged with little tweaks that my site needed — but I just couldn’t get to them.

They were important enough to write down, but not important enough to actually work on compared to everything else. That’s when I hired David at ClickWP to help me manage this site (and others I own).

Now, getting something on Rich20Something fixed is as simple as sending a quick email — and a task that would have taken me a few hours is done in a fraction of the time.

(BTW — I don’t get a commission or anything. I just think ClickWP is awesome, and they’ve really helped my business.)

3.) Drop it

This is my secret weapon. If you’ve tried rolling it over and you can’t get to it…and delegation isn’t a good option…. Just drop it.

Say what??!

Yep — just forget about it.

Oftentimes, we add things to our to-do list that actually don’t need to get done. Sometimes it just feels good to pad the list with busy work to say that we’re working on things. Stop that.

The key here is getting good enough to determine which items are unnecessary before even adding them to the list. Eventually, you may even create a “Not-To-Do List”. Believe me, you’ll be much better off.

 

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Simple to-do lists are powerful. Long to-do lists are DISEMPOWERING.

I want you to get super specific about what needs to get done for the day — even after you’ve prioritized your list.

Make your priorities fight each other. Then chop that list down to THREE priorities for the day. Just three.

Why?

The reasons are both pragmatic and psychological.

Using the to-do list from above, think about what’s going on in the background. If I start with this list, and am only able to work through about half (which is pretty typical any given day) it looks like this:

 

  1. Client meeting
  2. Upload new videos to Freelance Domination course
  3. Write Mon/Weds posts for the blog
  4. Write 2,000 words on the mega post
  5. Follow up with editors
  6. Email back tribe member
  7. Add Olark chat back to the site

I got a some major things done.

Two revenue generating activities and two pieces of content. But looking at this list, I FEEL bad about it.

I’ve done less than half of what I accomplished for the day. Psychologically, this is defeating.

If I make long lists like this day after day and never finish, I’ll always feel behind. I’ll always feel unaccomplished.

But what if I only commit to doing THREE things every day — no matter what? I feel SO much better about this list, even though it’s the exact same one:

  1. Client meeting
  2. Upload new videos to Freelance Domination course
  3. Write Mon/Weds posts for the blog

This is a completed to-do list.

This is a successful day.

This is something I can build on.

And if I get to items 4-7, it actually feels like a BONUS, rather than barely scraping by.

What a change in perspective!

Think about it this way: whether you accomplish 3 out of 7 things of the day…or 3 out of 3….you’re still completing the SAME amount of work — but one list leaves you feeling empty and dissatisfied, while the other leaves you confident and happy with your daily progress.

This is another reason why prioritizing your list and taking care of your big items first is so important: when you cut the list down, you’ll still be able to take care of the most important items.

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