Best way to make a to-do list that actually gets done

Best way to make a to do list that actually gets done

Did you know that 9.6 billon to-dos will not get done today? In homes, schools and businesses all across the world, things will not get accomplished.
Things that have been carefully written down on a list.
Useful things.
Important things.

Do you know the number one reason these tasks will not get done? Not because of lack of work ethic, ability or want-to. They won’t get done because the person who made the list does not understand how time works. And has DRAMATICALLY UNDERESTIMATED how much time tasks take to get done.

Fine, it’s me. I am delusional. I have a completely unrealistic number of items on my daily to-do list. I bet you do, too.
But what we want is to be able to cross things off our list, feel a sense of well-earned accomplishment and not spend our days running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But I find myself exhausted at the end of many VERY BUSY days, with a to-do list that is annoyingly long still. Bawk bawk.

My shocking realization about my to-do list

This isn’t rocket science (or any kind of science, just a little math, honestly) but I just kept hoping I could defy reality. Here’s what I finally realized:

1) I only have so many hours to work on tasks in a day. And,

2) Tasks take time.

I mean….what?

But there are days I list enough to do’s to fill a week’s worth of actual time. And being more organized or trying to work harder does not change the fact that there is NO FREAKING WAY I can get even a fraction of that stuff done.

When you account for all the things that TAKE TIME in your day–driving places to do the things or driving children places to do the things, work hours, daily tasks around food, hygiene, and mundane household chores–you become very aware that you don’t have as much time as you think to complete a long list of additional tasks.

And that’s if your day goes according to plan (<–hahahahaha!)

So here’s how I learned to make a reasonable to-do list, increase my sense of accomplishment, and decrease my overall anxiety about not getting things done: time-blocking.

Time-blocking is where you block out time in you daily planner to do a thing. Because, as mentioned before, TASKS TAKE TIME. Doing this makes me keenly aware of how I actually spend my days and how unrealistic I have been about the amount of time I plan for things to take vs. how long they actually take.

How to put together a reasonable to-do list with time-blocking

1) Start with a planner that has an hourly agenda in it, the kind with a reasonable start and end time for your ACTUAL day, not just 8am-6pm. (<–hahahahaha!)

2) Block out the times you have must do’s at certain times like walk the dog, work schedule, and any household/human tasks. I know it’s weird to write in shower and grooming time, but ANYTHING that TAKES TIME should be factored into your day.

3) Write in appointments or other times you have obligations (carpool line, friends over for dinner, etc).

Note: the time block for every task should begin with the time you will need to start getting ready and leave to get there, the approximate appointment length, and then the time coming back.

At this point, if you’re lucky, you have about 30 minutes left in your day.

See? SEE?? THIS IS WHY YOU CAN’T GET all those 10 things done on your to-do list!

Once you write in your actual life, you realize all the time you DO NOT HAVE to accomplish every task you would like to.

*If you are new to organizing your time or for you loosey-goosey folks who don’t want to be boxed in to a specific time, try this: make your to-do list with the amount of time you plan to spend on each task written next to it instead of putting it into the timed-agenda. That way, you still get a realistic view of your available time and a sense when tasks will fit around other commitments you have on your schedule. This is actually how I started time-blocking and I still use this on days where I don’t have a lot of control over my time.

Tips for success in your actual life

1) Be realistic.

Hope is nice, but if you constantly over-schedule yourself, you will feel crazy and stressed. Be real, not delusional. We all have to abide by the laws in the space-time continuum. And, you know, reality. (Hey, maybe this is science!)

2) Be aware that some tasks you want to write down are multi-steptorial (as in ‘taking many steps to accomplish’).

That’s part of why you can’t get things done. Because if you have ‘grocery shopping’ on your list, do you really mean just the time at the store? Or does it include the meal planning, list making and travel time? A task you *think* should only take an hour or so might actually take double that amount of time because you didn’t factor all the steps in. You will be surprised at how much you actually DO get done in a day. You just don’t get to cross if off a list.

3) Create some margin for the unexpected.

If you have everything scheduled down to the last minute (tempting) than any variation that crops up from everyday life will shift the whole list and it will make you stressed and cray-cray. (<–we are trying to avoid headless chickens, remember?)

4) Factor in fun/relaxation time.

If you know you want to have some for self-care time, to play with your kids or flip through Instagram, plan for that. And then you get to cross it off! Whee! It also has a higher chance of getting done.

You can accomplish your to-do list, but only if it abides by the laws of nature and science. Evaluate what you already have in your life that takes time and account for it. If you are realistic about the actual time you have in your day, it will help you to become a master of the time you do have. Sure, it’s a bit of a bummer to realize you can’t accomplish everything you want to in a day, but it’s better to know this BEFORE tasks are added to a completely delusional to-do list.

I hope this gives you some tools so you know how to make a to-do list that you have a fighting chance of getting done!

(Questions? Thoughts? Tips to share? Jump on over to the Facebook group and join the conversation there! Search the page for this blog post title and let’s chat!)


(Thanks to Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash for the photo!)

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