Modern*Simplicity

Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How to Make a To-Do List That Actually Works

How to Make a To-Do List That Actually WorksDo you make to-do lists that keep getting longer instead of shorter? Do you lose the lists, or tackle every task you can think of except the ones on your list? It’s time to create a to-do list that actually works for you.

Making a to-do list that actually works not only means putting all your to-do’s in writing in one place, but it also requires prioritizing which tasks are the most important versus what tasks you would just like to do (you know, the easy ones).

There’s an art to making an effective to-do list, but it’s an art that can be learned pretty easily. Click To Tweet

So many of us make lists and then never get through them, but making an effective list and learning how to use it can buy you a lot more free time, thanks to all those checkmarks hitting your list regularly. There’s an art to making an effective to-do list, but it’s an art that can be learned pretty easily.

Pick your method.

You can make a task list on paper, or you can use an app on your phone. The important thing is to pick a method and stick with it. I’ve bounced back and forth between electronic and paper, depending on the season of life I was in. I’m back to electronic now, but choose the method that works best for you.

Create your list.

Each week, spend a few minutes writing down as many tasks for the whole week that you can think of. I like to do this on Sundays as I prepare for the week ahead. Check your calendar and note any tasks associated with events for the week.

Now go through the list and cross off anything you actually don’t need to do. Cut the fluff. Maybe there are little tasks you feel like you should do, but don’t really need to do. Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off for ages. If it’s been procrastinated on that long, perhaps it’s not actually necessary. Consider dropping it. Now you’ve got a working master task list for the week.

Learn to say no.

The use of the word “no” is key because you can’t keep adding tasks to your to-do list without pushing other tasks off. If you say yes to everything everyone asks you to do, you will never be able to get to the things that are most important for you. Use the word “no” to make sure that your to-do list actually reflects your goals, not someone else’s.

If you say yes to everything everyone asks you to do, you will never get to the things that are most important to you. Click To Tweet

Prioritize.

Once you have your master task list drafted, go back and prioritize which tasks need to be done on which day, so you can determine what your daily big rocks are.

Each night, go through your to-do list for the next day and note which tasks are most important. Choose a maximum of three tasks that you absolutely must do the next day. These most important tasks are your “big rocks,” and you’ll be more efficient in tackling these tasks first before you get sidetracked doing other things.

Highlight which tasks are your big rocks for the day by putting a star by the task or using a highlighter to make the task pop off the page. If you use a digital to-do list, you can bold the task or put a star on the item, if your app has that feature.

We often have a habit of filling our mornings with easy little tasks that don’t really move the needle toward our goals, but for our to-do lists to truly work, we need to prioritize our tasks and hit them first thing.

Ask yourself:

  • If I only get these three things done today, will I feel satisfied?
  • Are these the three most important things I need to do to consider my day a success?

How do you choose what to make a priority?

There are two types of tasks that should pop to the top of your to-do list:

  • Tasks with a deadline. Maybe you have a meeting you need to prepare for, or there’s a party at your kids’ school that you are attending. Maybe you have an assignment due at work, or there’s a baseball tournament this weekend. Any task with a deadline will need to be prioritized according to its due date.
  • Tasks that move you closer to your goals. Dividing up big goals into smaller chunks is the best way to make sure you reach your goals. Scheduling these chunks as tasks can help move you toward your goal, so those should be a priority as well.

Schedule them.

Part of creating a to-do list that actually works is scheduling when you’re going to do those tasks. You’re not only looking at when these tasks need to be done but also at your calendar so that these things you’re saying are important to you are actually scheduled to get done. You can’t finish something if you don’t make time to work on it. Be intentional with how you schedule your time.

You can’t finish something if you don’t make time to work on it. Click To Tweet

Be prepared.

You’re not going to have a very effective to-do list if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing or what supplies you need to do it.

Let’s say you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment for your child. You’ve got a sticky note with the doctor’s phone number and your insurance information, but you lost the note. Pick a spot to store this information all in one place, so you know exactly where to look. Random sticky notes and little scraps of paper are bound to get misplaced, but having a single place to store that information, whether in a small notebook or a notes app in your phone, ensures you have what you need when you need it.

The same principle applies to items needed for specific tasks. If you have library books to drop off, put them together in a bag by the door or in your car. If you need to pick up groceries, put all the items on one list on your phone so you don’t forget the list back on the kitchen counter. We now use Alexa for our grocery list, since we can just “tell” her what we need and she records it, then we can access the list via the Alexa app on our phones. If you need to pick up dry cleaning, put the claim receipt in your wallet. You don’t want to head out to knock a task off your to-do list only to discover you don’t have what you need.

If the tasks you have to do involve some sort of materials, things you need to take with you, even a specific way you need to dress, make a note next to the task on your list so you don’t forget. When I go to a PTA meeting, I make a note on the calendar to-do that I need to have my committee binder with me. My son’s piano lessons require a certain music book. Scout functions need complete uniforms, water bottles, and sometimes books or paperwork. There are too many details that can get lost in the chaos — better to make a note so you don’t forget.

Batch similar tasks.

Batching related tasks together on your to-do list can also save you time and energy. Take errands for example. I know I need to stop by the pet store and pick up flea treatment for my cats. I need to drop off library books. And I need to stop by my PO Box to pick up the mail.

These are not things I want to do on three different days or even three different times on the same day. It’s so much more efficient to batch those errands together and do them all on one trip out if possible. Not does it help you not forget anything, but you’ll be saving time, saving energy, saving gas, and you’re being the most efficient you can be with getting those tasks done.

You can also batch phone calls, paying bills, or responding to emails. Make time to do them all at once instead of randomly throughout the day.

At the end of the day, you want to feel that you are making progress towards your goals and making good use of your time. Be intentional with your schedule. By planning out in advance which things are the most important, you can prioritize completing those tasks and you can feel good about the choices you made with your time.

 

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    10 Bad Habits That Are Killing Your Productivity

    10 Bad Habits That Are Killing Your ProductivityWe all have a few bad habits that make themselves known in the amount of work we get done each day, whether we are stay-at-home moms, retired and loving it, or working for cash from home or outside of the house. We all have these little bad habits that are killing our productivity and keeping us from getting our best stuff done. Before we can change these habits, we need to recognize them for what they are.

    I’ve narrowed it down to just 10 common bad habits that are absolutely killing your productivity. And not just your productivity at work, but your productivity in your everyday life, in the little tasks and projects you do every day.

    Not having a morning routine

    Not having a morning routine means that you’re starting your day off already behind. It means you may not know what you’re going to wear, what your kids are going to wear. You don’t know what you’re having for lunch, you don’t know what your kids are having for lunch. You didn’t check your calendar the night before so you probably don’t know what activities are planned for the day — what if your child needs to take something special into school? I have missed my fair share of crazy sock days, the “I needed a sack lunch for the field trip” days, and even the “it’s potluck day at work, weren’t you going to bring a pie?” days.

    These situations can be avoided if you make it a habit to check your schedule as part of your morning routine (and ideally the night before as well). You also need to check the weather so you can dress appropriately and take that umbrella or gloves if you need them. Planning out your breakfast in advance or setting the coffee maker ahead of time on a timer means you don’t have to think about these things — they are part of your routine. I also use the alarm clock feature on my phone to set timers for when things need to happen in the morning, such as what time each kid needs to be at his respective school bus stop. It’s part of the routine — the kids hear the alarm go off and know it’s time to head to the bus. Everybody will make it to school and work on time.

    Everything is simpler and a lot less stressful when everybody knows the order of events in the morning — they know what to expect. Starting off the morning as a mess can kill your productivity for the entire day. Start the day off right if you want to be ready to have a productive day.

    Doing the easy stuff first

    By doing the easy stuff first, you’re essentially procrastinating, which kills your productivity. You’re taking the hard stuff, which is probably the most important stuff, “your big rocks,” and putting them off until later, and the stuff that gets put off until “later” often doesn’t get done at all.

    When I say easy stuff, I mean things like checking your email, checking social media, maybe even been doing the dishes or running a load of laundry. Yes, those things may be important, but they’re not your “big rocks” for the day. When you make your to-do list, it’s important to note which things are the most important and make them priority items. Then start your day by working on those items.

    By tackling the most important stuff, the hard stuff, first, the rest of the day will be so much easier. You’re left with the smaller, easier tasks to fill in the rest of your day, and you can tackle those with the confidence and satisfaction that comes from crossing off those monster tasks early in the day.

    Keeping your phone with you all the time

    Keeping your phone with you all the time means that you’re probably being distracted by it, and that can kill your productivity. Even if your phone is on silent or vibrate, you’re probably still being distracted by it, because it’s hard to have your phone with you and not look at it to see if you’ve got a new message or if there’s that little notification icon on one of your apps.

    It is OK to set your phone aside to get your work done. It is OK to set yourself phone aside so you can have quality time with your family. I keep my phone nearby while my kids are at school or if I’m away from my family, so I can be reached in an emergency. However when I’m working on deep work or I’m with my family, my phone tends to be on silent, often left in some other room for a while so I’m not tempted to look at it.

    It is OK to set your phone aside to get your work done. It is OK to set yourself phone aside so you can have quality time with your family. Click To Tweet

    In this day and age, it’s far too easy to be distracted by your phone without even realizing you’re doing it. Being distracted by your phone will not only kill your productivity but can pull your attention away from your family and friends and distract you from the work you’re trying to do. It’s too easy to be distracted by the little screen that goes with us everywhere, so make sure you have some boundaries so it doesn’t kill your productivity and steal your happiness and relationships.

    Mindless browsing on the Internet or social media

    Another bad habit that kills your productivity is mindless browsing on the Internet and social media, on your phone, on your tablet, and on your computer. Whether you’re at work, out and about, or at home, it’s way too easy to get in the habit of sitting around mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, flipping through Pinterest, perusing the images on Instagram, or randomly clicking links all over the Internet just “surfing the net” as we used to say.

    But is this keeping you from doing more important work? It probably is. Surfing the Internet is one of the prime candidates for killing your productivity because it’s such an easy distraction when you’re sitting at your computer trying to get work done. It’s easy to open that next little browser tab or click just one more link. It’s imperative that you either learn how to keep the tabs closed or you can turn off your Internet connection completely to get your stuff done.

    There are apps available where you can set times that will block off certain websites, such as Facebook or Twitter, until you’ve completed a certain amount of work or a specified amount of time. They can also completely block certain websites within certain hours so you can’t be tempted to go play on the Internet while you’re supposed to be working.

    I think it’s best to train yourself to not be distracted, even though it is incredibly hard. However, this mindless browsing is what is keeping you from being your best productive self so you can spend more time doing the things you really want to do.

    Multitasking

    There was a time when we thought multitasking was the key to being productive — but we were wrong. It turns out that our brains are just not wired for multitasking, and when we try to do more than one thing at a time, our attention is divided too much. We can do one activity at a time very well, or we can do multiple activities at once only “kind of OK.”

    There was a time when we thought multitasking was the key to being productive — but we were wrong. Click To Tweet

    It is much faster, much better, and therefore more productive to actually do one thing at a time and give that task your full attention. I’m not talking about running a load of laundry while you’re also trying to write an article. That’s different because you’re not actually scrubbing the laundry on a rock in a river. It’s fine to do something like that where you’re starting a load of laundry in the machine or running the dishwasher while you are working on a computer in the other room. You’re not actually doing these things manually at the same time.

    It is not possible to concentrate on listening to an audio course while also writing an article that is due for a client while also helping your child with his math homework. You’ll end up not doing any of those things very well. So take the time to actually concentrate on one item at a time so that you can do it the best of your ability. You’ll do it faster, you’ll do it better, and you’ll be more productive while you’re doing it.

    Not prioritizing your to-do list

    We spoke a little bit about this when we talked about doing the easy stuff first, but it warrants its own mention here. By not prioritizing your to-do list, you are killing your productivity. Not everything you need to do is of the same importance — the tasks on your list have different degrees of importance and urgency.

    In Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about dividing your tasks by their order of importance and urgency. You can also keep it even simpler than that: by writing out your to-do list each night and starring or highlighting the items that are the most important that you must take care of the next day.

    The key part is that you need to choose just one or two items on your to-do list that are the biggest priority on your list, so you know what you need to start the day with. Ask yourself, “what is the most important thing that I need to accomplish today so that I know my day was a success?” You will kill your productivity if you treat all tasks as being equal.

    Need a new way to organize your to-do list? Download my free printable one here.

    You will kill your productivity if you treat all tasks as being equal. Click To Tweet

    Overplanning

    I love to plan — planners are one of my favorite things. I love to sit down with a fresh planner and new pens and start mapping out my week, making to-do lists, and figuring out how I’m going to divide up tasks in the big projects that I’m working on. I’m a master at Google Calendar, and it’s a running joke that I live and die by my calendar. However, when it comes down to it, over planning can actually kill your productivity.

    When you start planning every task down to the very last detail, it can actually stop you in your tracks. You get to the point where you have planned so much and gotten everything so detailed that it actually makes it hard for you to even start — the whole process becomes too overwhelming. There needs to be room within your planning for spontaneity and changes. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, and by over planning, you’re killing your productivity since you’re not allowing for those little changes, the little things that may go wrong, and instead, you’re holding yourself to a level of perfection that is simply not possible.

    When you start planning every task down to the very last detail, it can actually stop you in your tracks. The whole process becomes too overwhelming. Click To Tweet

    When you over plan, you’re killing your productivity before you even start. So yes, it is great to have an outline and a general idea of where you’re going and a plan of how you’re going to get there, but don’t take it too far and plan it down to the last detail.

    Perfectionism

    I briefly touched on this when we talked about over planning, but I want to highlight it because it is such a big obstacle to productivity. Perfectionism will kill your productivity. I cannot stress that enough. Perfectionism is the biggest killer of productivity. Trust me — I’m a recovering perfectionist.

    We are not perfect, we never will be, and trying to be perfect is going to make things come to a screeching halt. If you try to make everything exactly perfect, you will get nowhere.

    I mentioned before that I love to plan, and I love planners. One of the things about my paper planner though, and I know other people have the same problem, is that I’m always afraid of “messing it up.” I don’t like having to mark out something in my planner, scribble something out because I made a mistake, anything like that. I have been so afraid of my planner not looking perfect that I’ve been known to stall on even using it. If I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, I didn’t want to write it down for fear of having a mistake in my planner that would make it not perfect.

    But we’re not perfect, and part of the process of getting your stuff done is making allowances for the things that come up that make life the way it is. You can’t be so afraid of making mistakes that you don’t even start. There will be mistakes, and you have to be willing to scratch them off and start again. Perfectionism can kill your productivity if you let it, so just grab the White Out and get to work. Or do what I did, and buy erasable pens.

    Saying yes all the time

    By saying yes all the time, it means you may be saying no to things that are actually most important to you. Saying yes means you’re not taking into account the things that you are most interested in and the things that are most important to you. To live your best, most intentional life, you have to learn to say no. No has to become one of the most used words in your vocabulary.

    No is the word that is going to keep your schedule the most streamlined, productive, and the most fulfilling that it can be.

    Self-doubt

    To live your most productive life, you have to leave the bad habit of self-doubt at the door. Self-doubt is killing your productivity because it’s making you procrastinate and delay your decisions. By not feeling confident in yourself, you’re delaying taking action on any kind of plans that you want to make. Whether it’s going back to school to get your degree, buying a new home, making that move across the country, or even just painting your bedroom, you have to be confident that you can make the right decisions to get rid of that self-doubt. You can’t let self-doubt keep you behind.

    Self-doubt is killing your productivity because it’s making you procrastinate and delay your decisions. Click To Tweet

    Your best, most intentional life is only going to come about when you feel confident that you are making the best decisions for yourself in the now, no matter what the outcome is in the future. None of us know the future. None of us are perfect, but we’re all doing the best we can. Don’t let self-doubt kill your productivity and keep you from getting the stuff done that you really want to do.

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    School is Back: Here’s Your Survival Guide

    The following is an excerpt from my book, Mommy Simplicity: Finding Calm in the Chaos.

    School. I don’t know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with school.

    In September, I’m completely obsessed with school. I love shopping for new school supplies, the smell of fresh crayons and newly sharpened pencils delight me. I love getting my boys their back-to-school haircuts, freshening their wardrobes and spiffing them up after a summer of chlorine-filled pools acting in place of their daily showers (I know I’m not the only one…). I’m filled with relief and a sense of freedom as I drop them off at school, giggling as I head out for a coffee-laden wander through Target child-free (again, I know I’m not the only one — we’re in there clinking coffee cups as we pass in the aisles). I eagerly look forward to every piece of paper that comes home, read every word the teachers email us and enjoy looking for new ideas to make lunch boxes fun.

    By May, eegads, are we over it. I haven’t signed a folder in a month — and I’m not even sure the first grader knows where his folder is. We forget to pack snack at least twice a week, and I cannot wait for summer break just so *I* can have time off from the terror of 4th grade math homework. Teacher emails with the subject line “special project!” make me want to hurl my laptop across the room. My neighborhood mom friends now meet for margarita lunches instead of morning coffees. The lunch boxes are dusty in the cupboard, and I’m pretty sure they’re eating ice cream and French fries for lunch. From the looks on the teachers’ faces, I think they’re just as over it as I am, and I’m bringing Sonic Happy Hour drinks up to the school with prayers that it’s not my kids making them consider early retirement.

    Homeschooling mamas, I really don’t know how you do it. My hat’s off to you.

    School doesn’t have to be this stressful, of course. Planning ahead and going into the school year with a game plan can make the whole year go smoother.

    Get the right supplies.

    It can seem like schools are sending out longer supply lists every year, but it’s important to remember these lists are the tools your children will be using all day, every day, for at least nine months. Before heading to the store, check your home stash to see if you have any of the requested supplies already on hand. Do the bulk of your supply shopping kid-free if possible, especially if you have younger children. Most kids gravitate toward the pricier or fancier options not on the list, and it can be challenging to argue prices and required lists with kids in the middle of a crowded shopping aisle. They’ll grab whatever they want, whether they actually need it or not. After you get what they really need, take the kids shopping for a few fun supplies that can really show their personality.

    It can seem like schools are sending out longer supply lists every year, but it’s important to remember these lists are the tools your children will be using all day, every day, for at least nine months. Click To Tweet

    Don’t stress the back-to-school wardrobe.

    Many parents feel like they *have to* rush out before school starts and buy their child a whole new wardrobe. You don’t. In many places, the first month or two of school is still summery weather, so they can continue wearing what they already have. In Texas, it can be months before my kids even need a long-sleeve shirt.

    Instead of springing for an entire new closet of clothes, evaluate what they already have. Get rid of anything outgrown or too stained and holey to wear in public. Check that shorts, skirts, tops, and tank tops fall within the boundaries of school dress code policies, and make sure you have one or two pairs of pants and a jacket that fits in case cooler weather sneaks up. Then don’t stress. Pick up what your child needs as she needs it — it’s much easier on the budget and less wasteful of perfectly serviceable clothing.

    Plan a homework spot at home.

    Put together a homework station, just a simple caddy, drawer or shelf of extra school supplies. Include a nice selection of sharp pencils, a pencil sharpener, a large eraser, a few pens (including a red pen for marking), presharpened color pencils or fresh crayons, loose-leaf paper, and a ruler. I also keep a few sheets of poster board and a bin of construction paper, blank index cards, glue sticks, white glue and markers for last-minute projects. I prefer to keep these separate from our regular art supplies, since my kids love to do art on their own, and I like to have fresh supplies ready for school projects to avoid late-night trips to the store.

    Plan ahead for school lunches.

    If your children buy lunch at school, go ahead and fill up their lunch account with money or keep an envelope of small cash set aside for the inevitable cry of “I need lunch money!” If you have younger children, check into the option of limiting what they can buy if they have access to sugary treats in the lunch line. My children usually bring lunch from home, but I always keep a few bucks in their school lunch accounts in case we forget to grab the lunch box or if something unforeseen happens. If you send lunch from home, check your supplies to be sure you have a sturdy lunch box, reusable containers, and even small cloth napkins for your kids to use. Consider putting together a week or two worth of lunch menus or a choose-your-own lunch chart with options for sandwiches, finger foods, side dishes, beverages, and healthy desserts to make putting together a healthy lunch fast and easy. Older kids can make their own lunches, but a menu or chart of options can help them make healthy decisions.

    Decide in advance what extracurricular activities each child will participate in.

    As much fun as sports, music, and clubs are, too many activities can wear both you and your kids out, and school work can suffer. Sit down before school starts to discuss what activities each person wants to do, and create a calendar that shows at-a-glance who has what activities each day. Your daughter’s soccer schedule and your son’s band practices affect not just them, but their siblings and you too, so it’s important to consider each person’s schedule for the simple sanity of the whole family.

    This post is an excerpt from my book, Mommy Simplicity: Finding Calm in the Chaos. If you found it helpful, please check out my book on Amazon. It’s available in both print and Kindle versions.