How I am killing my To Do list

Last week I wrote about being stressed and some of the things that were helping me. After publishing (well actually before) I really felt the need to write a bit more about the way I manage my To Do list at the moment. I have no idea or illusion that this is particularly interesting to others but it flowed out so it was obviously something that I needed to write for me…

The To Do list as long as your arm (and if you are anything like me often in your head) can lead to all sorts of procrastination and avoidance and nothing getting done. Least not the thing that really needed doing.


A short list

But. Now I do things differently. Each day I start with a new list. With only three things on it. And I try hard to get them done but (shock and horror) sometimes one might not be finished or done, and I roll it over to the next day. Yet it seems to work, feel good even.

How do you make the three point list work when you have so much going on in your life that needs to be addressed? Surely that would mean so much wouldn’t get done? And how can it work if you don’t even do all three tasks?

Well exactly how often have you gotten through all the jobs on your To Do list in one day? I challenge you to count how many you do manage (and then even it out for the super ‘on fire’ day followed by the ‘burned out’ day)?

Where do I get my tasks from? Well I do have *ahem* another list (and not that’s not cheating). A brain dump (something I found out about from the lovely Debs at Chaos in Kent). I do them periodically and means I can literally empty out my brain of all the worrying about jobs by getting them down on paper. Those thoughts swim round and tangle up action in inaction.

The psychological benefits

And it turns out that it is an actual psychological effect for unfinished business to cause reduced productivity; but as long as you plan to do those tasks (writing out in a list) then it doesn’t have that effect. No longer paralysed by infinite theoretical To-Dos, lists are shorter and easier to tackle than anticipated.

I break jobs down into smaller chunks and I can see which jobs are important urgent or quite frankly completely pointless (oh surprisingly far too many – just ask my husband about my fanatical record-keeping of ridiculous details!). Often those troublesome jobs that fester around turn out to be less important once seen in reference to others.

More like turning the mountain into a molehill. Breaking something down into its constituent parts is far less intimidating and much more manageable. Jobs won’t disappear or equally get harder (usually) if I leave them for a day or two. Knowing there is a slot of time allocated to a job helps it weigh less heavily.

Stepping up

There is definitely an element of ‘eating the frog’ about the three things To Do list. You have to put something of substance down. Because it is a stripped down, minimalist list.  You can’t just put ‘Do the laundry’ (unless of course you have just had twins and then just keeping everyone fed and clean is a hard work; you know what I mean).

There needs to be something of a challenge about the list. Not in a ‘let’s climb Everest’ way. Just moving forwards. Because let’s be honest it is easy to have plenty of jobs on a To Do list that are ‘fillers’. And while it is easy to hide behind a trivial task, the trouble with a short list is there isn’t much hiding space. The sense of success from three real tasks (or even two out of three) completed is immense.

Ironically I am able to do more of other things, simply by having a can do/must do attitude. However I don’t always get the three things done. Not because I have been lazy. But generally something else has cropped up or the day has taken a turn in an unexpected direction. It happens to us all.

Killing it with kindness

And remarkably I am able to quiet the voice that is critical, largely I believe because I know exactly what I have achieved. It is all too easy to discredit what you have done in a day rather than acknowledge it. When depression has hit me in the past, keeping a list of my most basic accomplishments has buoyed my spirits. And the three things list is easy to do this with.

But if I carry something over, I have to make sure I do it the next day and not shunt it endlessly down the list. Otherwise it should never have been on the list in the first place. But sometimes a task needs concentration, sometimes not; sometimes more time, sometimes less. So I have to be flexible to the list and what is going on around me.

Critically I am kinder to myself when I use my To Do list in this way. And right now it’s paying off for my mood and what I am getting done.

Writing Bubble
If you know anyone else who might enjoy this, please share

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Another great post Alice! I’ve heard about the three item to do list a few times, but haven’t managed to allocate head space to it as yet. Must try harder 🙂 Great news that you’re doing so well, following on from your last blog about being overwhelmed xx

  2. suz says:

    This is some great advice. I’m so glad it’s working for you. I might try cutting my to-do list down to three things and see if it helps.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great tips – i always use to do lists at work, I should learn to apply them to my blogging and personal life. #whatimwriting

  4. This sounds like a very familiar approach… I don’t strictly stick to three items (depends on how big the task is!) but I do tend to have periodic brain dumps followed by shorter daily lists. I have a very beautiful and simple weekly planner on my desk that I use for this – so as long as I get to sit at my desk for at least some of the day I’m fine! It’s when I don’t even manage that I really start to panic… xx

  5. maddy@writingbubble says:

    Ah! My to do list is massive and full of all sorts of things from really huge tasks down to tiny ones and definitely including ‘fillers’ too. I like the sound of this approach and I think some of my huge tasks would be less intimidating if I broke them down into bite sized pieces. Thanks for the inspiration Alice! And thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting. xx

Leave a Reply