We all make to do lists. Sometimes they are written down so we can keep track of what’s on the lists. Other times we keep a running catalog in our heads. Either way, it’s a good idea to have a way to prioritze those to do lists, so the items on those lists get done when the need to be done.
By Joan Whetzel
We all have our to do lists – sometimes referred to as honey-do lists. Some of us feel the need to write them down and others keep a running list in their heads. Some to-do lists are based on a single project, so that once all the tasks on the list are completed, the list can be tossed into the dust bin. Others are ongoing to-do lists that cover our daily lives. These are ever-evolving, meaning that some tasks will be deleted once performed, while new tasks will be added to the list.
Unfortunately, the ongoing, ever-evolving to-do lists are not linear, meaning you can’t always delete tasks from the top of the list and add new tasks to the bottom of the list. These types of to-do lists have to be prioritized, based on which tasks need to be completed right away as opposed to those that we have time to complete. Of course, for some of us, when we have a lot of things going on in our lives and a lot of projects to complete, we sometimes have to keep several to-do lists. A few smaller lists for individual projects, and master list that incorporates all aspects of our lives, just so we can see how we can fit all the parts into our lives. The master list is a great way to help set priorities because it allows us to see everything at a glance, and re-prioritize as needed. It also makes visible items that can be multi-tasked to save time and energy.
Creating a To-Do List Template
There are two ways to create a To-Do List template. The first is to purchase a large white board and create a perpetual 2-month or 3-month calendar by marking off the squares with permanent marker. The permanent squares won’t rub off. When filled in with multi-colored, dry erase markers (which do rub off easily) the calendar can be an ongoing visual reminder of what needs to be done on or by a specific date.
The second template consists of a computer generated table. Keeping it on your computer, PDA, or smart phone makes it easy to make changes by deleting and adding tasks at your fingertips. Divide the table into 3 columns. Label the first column “Beginning Date”, the second column “Completion Date” or “Deadline,” and the third column “To-Do” under which will be placed tasks that need to be completed or the steps needed to complete a project.
Daily, Weekly, Monthly To-Do Entries
Another way to prioritize a to-do list is to simply make a list of things that need to be done. Next separate them out into daily tasks, weekly tasks, and monthly tasks. These are usually repeated tasks like carpool, exercise classes, college courses, etc. Keep a day-timer style journal to keep these in mind so that you can prioritize other irregular tasks around these known entities.
Urgent, Important, or Flexible?
Another way to prioritize a to-do list is, again, to make a list of all the tasks that need to be completed. Divide the list into three categories: urgent / emergency, important, and flexible. The urgent or emergency items are those that need to be completed immediately, probably within in the next 1 to 3 days. The important items are those that should be completed within the next 2 weeks to a month. The flexible items either have no deadlines, have an extended deadline (some months down the line), or can be done whenever you have the time. Give yourself a completion deadline for each task. Items on this type of to-do list can move up or down in the categories as things change. For instance, if you thought you had 6 months to buy your sister’s wedding present, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the wedding got moved up to this weekend, so the wedding gift just got promoted “urgent / emergency.” On the other hand, that presentation you were supposed to make at work on the 15th just got postponed for 2 months, so the presentation got demoted to the “flexible” column – which may be a good thing since it gives you more time to prepare or refine your presentation.
Changing the To-Do to a Done
No matter what type of to-do list you create for yourself, make it a point to delete, erase, or check off items and tasks once they are completed. There’s nothing more overwhelming than looking at a to-do list that never seems to get any smaller or never seems to have tasks completed. On project related to-do lists, every time a task is deleted or crossed off, the list becomes shorter, which provides a sense of accomplishment.
Ongoing and master to-do lists may grow shorter or larger in cycles, so you won’t get the same pleasure of seeing the list dwindle to nothing. However, there is still the satisfaction of seeing tasks removed from the list altogether – hopefully never to return. There is also the satisfaction of being able to see multiple tasks at a glance and finding ways to multi-task as many of them as possible in order to save time. Freeing up time to do something fun is always worth the trouble.