The Secret to the Most Productive To-Do List Possible

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Walking this earth for 20-something years I’ve learned a few things about life — mine, in particular. And it boils down to this:

1) My life is mostly hustle and bustle.
2) It never, ever slows down.

Usually, I prefer this setup. I thrive on setting goals, working on projects, learning new things… but I also crave structure. No. I need structure. I am an organization fiend. With so many moving parts, I need some way to sort the segments of my life into something orderly so that I can be productive. I’m that person that has to make her bed at 9:59pm just to go to sleep in it at 10.

How do I build and manage the infrastructure of my life without going crazy?

Well, like the rest of you – through to-do lists!

Evernote. iNotes. Workflowy. Colorful notepads. Loose leaf paper. You name it. These are my lifelines and my saving graces. They help me achieve my goals and hang onto the threads of my sanity.


Since 2016, my list use has skyrocketed. It has been the most hectic, most intense two years of life to date. I got engaged and married to my best friend, and birthed a new best friend. I changed jobs a couple of times, moved across the country a few times, and started two blogs! On the outside, I hold it together pretty well, but on the inside, my mind sometimes crumbles away, bit by bit. Sometimes, I feel myself slowly falling to pieces, knowing good and well I have no time for it all…



So how do I keep going even though the lists never end?

By doing what I always do. I make a list. But this time I prioritized.

That might sound crazy. I just told you that I am crumbling inside from all the things on my lists, and now I'm adding yet another list?!? But stick with me…

One month in 2017, I made a list to help me figure out what I could realistically accomplish over the next few months. It wasn’t easy. I had 7+ things all vying for the top spot. Literally every item on the list could have been in the one of the first 3 spots. That’s exactly why I had to make this particular prioritized list.

I began. There was my then fiancé, my son, my job. Wedding planning and getting back in shape. Freelance writing and blogging…and so on.

Slowly (and reluctantly), I put them all in order.

I stepped back from my list, feeling slightly relieved and somewhat accomplished.

It wasn’t until I was driving home from work that day that I realized I forgot something on my list:


Why To-Do lists are awesome

Despite that gut-wrenching experience, I still love lists! To-do lists, especially. They help me stay organized, free up critical real estate in my brain, and leave me with a sense of accomplishment when as I strike through the tasks… But just because I love something doesn't mean it's good for me. I mean I love, love, LOVE, Oreo's, but are Oreo's good for me? Sadly, I think not.


Why To-Do Lists are Counterproductive

Similar to Oreo’s, to-do lists are something that many people – myself, included – love, even though they can actually be counterproductive.

Think about it: You create this super-long list of every single thing you need to do – big or small – and you tell yourself you're going to do all of those things in one day.


You get to the end of the day, and you’ve crossed off, what – four or five things? How does that make you feel? Probably like crap as you checked those off, you added four or five more and the list never ends!

That feeling is counterproductive. You don't create a to-do list to make yourself feel bad. You create a to-do list so that you can get stuff done and to make you feel accomplished when you do get stuff done.

A plain old to-do list does not help you do those things.

Fortunately, there's a way to create a to-do list that is much more productive, much more interactive, and much more motivating than the bullets on your little yellow Post-it note.

The Secret to the Most Productive To-Do List Possible

Based on a principle developed by the 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower (learn more about it here). Involves prioritizing and grouping the tasks you need to complete so that you can focus your time and energy on the things that are most urgent and most important. Instead of one never-ending list of tasks, you visually divide up your tasks into four sections:

1. Do it first.

These are the most pressing and most important tasks. Think: paying bills or turning in a document to your supervisor. Most of your energy should be spent completing as many of these tasks as possible before moving on.

2. Do it later.

These tasks, while important aren't super pressing, so you can schedule them for later. Maybe you need to respond to an email, return a phone call, or workout. You could schedule a specific time to come back to these.

3. Pass it on.

Delegating tasks is one of the major keys to leadership. You can't do everything yourself. You don't have to. And you don't need to. If something is pressing but isn't that important, ask someone else to handle it for you. Think: grocery shopping or cleaning the kitchen. If you have no family or friends to help with these tasks, outsourcing is one way to delegate.

4. Drop it.

Not pressing and not important? Drop it. Focus your energies on things that need to get done and things that are actually important. If they don't fall into these categories, they probably shouldn’t be on your to-do list anyway. If you must, save them for some random free time you might have.

Trust me, within a few days of readjusting your to-do list from never ending to these four groups, you'll start feeling much more productive and accomplished.

Just think about what you can do with all your newfound free time!


The Confused Millennial's 31 Day Adulting Challenge

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5 Steps To Make Anything Happen

How To Make The Perfect Planner For You

Looking for more ways to crush your goals this year? Grab TCM's Goal Setting Guide!

This post was originally published on 1/22/18