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:

Me.

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!


 RELATED READING:

The Confused Millennial’s 31 Day Adulting Challenge

4 Steps To Take Intentional Breaks At Work To Boost Productivity

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!

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  • Mar
    January 22, 2018 at 7:55 am

    I don’t know what I would do without a good to-do list. It is the first thing I do every morning when I get to work. Nothing feels better than being able to cross items off the list.

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 22, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Yes! Do you also sometimes write something on the list (that wasn’t originally there) just to cross it off?

  • Michelle Morton
    January 22, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Totally speaking my language here. I now bullet journal and that makes my life sooo much simpler.

  • Lily Ayala
    January 22, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Yes, yes, yes!! I used to be so bad about passing certain tasks off to my husband, but I’m getting better and it’s totally helped my to-do list as well.

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 22, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Isn’t it sometimes so much easier just to do it yourself? Delegating is definitely a skill that takes time to master (and feel comfortable with).

  • Becky Bush
    January 22, 2018 at 11:51 am

    This article made me laugh SOOO much – I LOVE the gifs! 🙂 I am so bad at making to do lists, I love this advice! Thank you so much!

  • Courtney Heathcock
    January 22, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I am horrible about passing task on, but great at never finishing them lol. I loved your advice about how to have the MOST productive to-do list. I think that is important, a to-do list is nothing unless it’s actually producing something! Thanks for sharing!

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 22, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      “…a to-do list is nothing unless it’s actually producing something!” Love that! Thanks for reading.

  • Marette Flora @ Floradise
    January 22, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    I completely agree in categorizing to-dos based on the musts and can waits. I always focus on most important tasks first thing while I still have energy!

  • Anna Hubbard
    January 22, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    These are great tips! I often find myself knocking off the easiest things on my to do list first, which isn’t necessarily the best thing! I’ll have to start implementing the category idea!

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 22, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Different strategies work for different people. Maybe try a few days where you do the hard thing first. See if getting those out of the way boosts your productivity.

  • Jasmine Maria
    January 22, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    So many great tips. I love making to-do lists and taking care of them one by one.

  • Helen @ Hel On Heels
    January 22, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    I love to-do lists. I call them ta-da lists though so when you scratch something off you can say, “TA-DA!” It’s so satisfying crossing things off.

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 22, 2018 at 9:09 pm

      Wow, I’m officially saying “TA-DA” everytime I cross something off now, lol. Thanks for reading Helen!

  • Kiara Catanzaro
    January 22, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    To-do lists are my life line and I agree that prioritizing your to-do list is far more important because it’s true that you don’t need every task to be labeled as urgent! There are some tasks you can delegate and some tasks that aren’t essential for today, but can easily be pushed back for tomorrow. Love seeing reading your thoughts on this!

  • Monica Delmonico
    January 22, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    I am not the best at delegating work! That’s one thing I’m trying to work on this year!!

  • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
    January 22, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    Thanks for featuring my article Rachel! It was a pleasure to work with you. Hopefully this will help us all be a little more productive so that we can reach our 2018 goals 🙂

  • Audrey White
    January 22, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    “I am an organization fiend” – HAHA SAME. I love the way you worded that!

  • Jenny
    January 22, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    What a great post! I love being productive and need to get better about it.

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 23, 2018 at 8:40 am

      Thanks for reading Jenny! I’ve found that sometimes one step at a time is a productive way to start being more productive 🙂

  • Paxton K
    January 22, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    Great post! What stood out to me most was the delegation portion of lists. I am such a control freak and I really need to work on handing tasks over to people.

  • Marci Smith
    January 22, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    These are awesome! I’m going to try this method. Hopefully it helps sort some of my mental chaos!

  • Amanda Schreiber
    January 23, 2018 at 12:23 am

    Thanks for this! I just started a new job, managing a newer blog, house hunting, and planning a wedding, so I totally needed a reminder to put myself first.

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 23, 2018 at 8:41 am

      Your life sounds like mine when I wrote this Amanda! I’m so glad that time is over, but these tips really helped me then and still do now. Best of luck to you, and don’t forget about yourself!

  • justine @ sunnyinjune.com
    January 23, 2018 at 8:38 am

    i LOOOOVE to do lists but you’re right i made lists forever long and only got a few crossed off. and then i got frustrated and overwhelmed, but i loved crossing things off. I’m gonna switch to your format because it seems SO MUCH better. also, i’m late to the evernote game but that is am AMAZING app.

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 23, 2018 at 8:42 am

      I’d love to know how the new strategy goes for you! Takes a little time to get used to, but once you do, it’s a game-changer! And yayyy #TeamEvernote 🙂

  • Jennifer
    January 23, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I totally relate to your love-hate relationship with lists. I live by lists. Being an entrepreneur and a mom of six, it’s the only way to keep my sanity. The joy of crossing those things off is so powerful, yet the reality of always having things undone can be very deflating if you don’t have a good perspective on your list.

    I really like the way you’ve prioritized things with your lists, it’s similar to what I do and actually helps me feel good about the things that are undone. It forces you to reevaluate and prioritize, which frees up space in your life. Thanks for sharing, you’ve got me thinking about how I can be even more productive!

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 23, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks so much for reading Jennifer! I’m glad you can related.
      A mom of 6? Wow! I can certainly understand why you rely on lists so much. Any other ways you prioritize your list that you find helpful?

  • Mel Chante
    January 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    This is so great. Prioritizing my lists has been a lifesaver for me too. I definitely want to get better at saying no, and dropping what’s unnecessary. Helpful read. Thanks for the post!

  • Noelle Lynne
    January 23, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Great tips! Learning to drop something that is important is really needed

  • Black Owned & Co.
    January 24, 2018 at 11:43 am

    This is sooo timely. I bought a planner that I love but I still need to get my lists together. Lo and behold I found a to do list pad that I bought in Target and I am now trying to make the commitment. Prioritizing is the most difficult part for me but I will get it done.

    Congrats on the BABY!!!

    • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
      January 24, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      Thank you and thanks for reading! Glad you were able to find a planner. Those are key to getting/staying organized!

  • Sarah Miller
    January 28, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    This is exactly what I needed to read going into the new workweek! I’m always making to do lists, but they’re never priority-focused.

  • Megan Nichole @ LaziMILLENNIAL
    February 5, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Thank you!

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