Getting Organized: Your To-Do List

We recently talked about choosing a calendar in order to help you get organized. Did you pick one out yet? It’s already February, so if you don’t yet have a calendar, it’s time to put that at the top of your to-do list. You do have a to-do list, don’t you? I know I do… and it’s never-ending. Does your list make you feel accomplished, overwhelmed, in control, or maybe some combination of all three?

Some people like to make lists. Most people would probably benefit from making lists, whether they like to or not. A to-do list can take many forms, but the most important thing is that it puts down, in black and white (or in whatever color you like to write – or type – in), everything that you need to accomplish in a day, a week, a month or whatever timeframe you choose. If your to-do list is either non-existent or not functioning as you’d like it to, here are some tips on how to make your to-do list work for you:

  • Make and look at your list before the morning. If you have no list when you arrive at work (or when you turn on your computer, if you’re working from home), then you need to waste valuable time thinking about what you did yesterday and the day before, going through your calendar to find out where you are in relation to upcoming deadlines, and deciding on a course of action. It’s better if you can do this the day before. Try to complete your next day’s to-do list before the end of your workday and, if it helps, double check it in the evening so that you can go to bed psyching yourself up for what you want to get started on first thing.

  • Decide on three non-negotiable items that absolutely must get done first thing. I know, I know, you probably have six or twelve or three dozen items that absolutely must get done. Choose three of them. Make sure at least one is something that you actually like doing. Write them down at the top of your list. These are the items that you are going to start with. Once you get into a groove and you’re able to cross a few important things off of your list, you will feel better than if you haphazardly pick and choose random items that aren’t quite as important.

  • Write down “check email” closer to lunchtime, then again at the end of the day. Most of us check our email first thing in the morning. The problem with this is that it’s very easy to get sidetracked! A client needs something, and you decide that it’s an emergency, whether it is or not. At the very least, do your three items before you log onto your email platform. It’s even better if you schedule yourself twenty minutes to deal with email right before lunch. If it makes you feel better, set up an automated email to go out explaining that you check emails twice daily, and that you’ll get back to the person as soon as possible. If it’s that important, they’ll call. Speaking of which…

  • Schedule yourself some time for returning phone calls. Most phone calls are not an emergency! Allow calls to go to voice mail, and check it every hour if you’re worried that you’ll miss something vital. Then return calls at a specific time. A good time for me to do this is usually in the mid-afternoon, when I’m in a bit of a slump anyway. Your mileage may vary; choose a half hour or an hour that works for you. Don’t get sucked into lengthy conversations, either; these will get you off-track as far as following your to-do list. Ask clients or your boss what they need, then get off of the phone. If necessary, tell them that you are leaving for a meeting.
  • Be realistic. This is probably the most important tip. If you work eight hours per day, don’t schedule yourself ten hours’ worth of projects. You’re not going to be able to get it done, and then you’ll start off behind tomorrow. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. If the worst happens and you complete everything on your list by 3:00, then you can decide if you’d rather take the rest of the afternoon off or start something else, but this is infinitely better than still having two major projects to work on when it’s time to go home.

Your to-do list will likely consist of a lot of trial and error, particularly if you don’t regularly follow one. Once you get into a good groove, though, you’ll find that you’re more organized than ever. The main rules are to be realistic and to not let yourself get distracted during the course of the day. It’s good to maintain some flexibility, but not so much that you aren’t getting accomplished what you need to do.

Do you have a great formula for making a to-do list that works? Share your tips with our readers!