Do You Need A To-Do List?

To do listI don’t mind telling you that not long ago I found myself feeling a bit inundated.

A bit overwhelmed.

I didn’t have a strict plan or schedule for my freelance work and my to-do list loomed over me with the weight of the ridiculously large and complex tasks I’d assigned myself.

I’ve never regretted leaving the rat race – not once – but at least I knew (only too well) what I was doing there every day. In the Land of Self-Employed Freelancer however some self-imposed structure is needed, so setting out what needs to be done on a daily basis is of particular importance.

But do you need a to-do list?

In a word – yes. But it’s also worth noting that if you approach your to-do list in a certain way it can often be counter-productive.

For months I was going about organising my working day in entirely the wrong way for me. Until recently my to-do list actually scared me instead of helping me to progress.

Naturally I’m one of those people who feels the need to write everything down and so (almost like a purging) I was listing everything that needed to be done.

And I mean everything.

And let me tell you; if your to-do list reads more like an edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica as mine did (and gets updated as laboriously), then it causes a lot more harm than good.

I would write my beloved to-do lists full of enthusiasm and vigour, but the completion of each item – the bit that actually mattered let’s not forget – very often didn’t happen. Why? Because the tasks were too large and way too unrealistic.

I wasn’t setting myself realistic and specific to-do list tasks. I was writing down goals and outcomes – not singular actions to take.

Writing down goals is not a bad idea as it goes – in fact I truly believe this can help turn them into reality – it’s just that the humble to-do list is not necessarily the best forum for this type of goal setting.

So I sat down and had a think and came up with some to-do lists rules…

A to do-list should never read anything like this:

1. Get 2 new clients

2. Start that new project

3. Work on marketing strategy

4 Etc.

No, no, NO! This is far too vague and gives way too much focus on the end result, rather than on the tasks that need completing in order to get those results.

A successful to-do list should read something like this:

1. Email pitch company A and publication B

2. Complete X, Y and Z for new project

3. Email mailing list about new promotion and promote on Twitter and Facebook

That’s more like it.

Not only is this more specific but it’s also short and concise.

What I’ve also found is that by choosing the most crucial tasks you must complete that day and only listing them, it makes your day so much more manageable. If it’s critical it gets done that day, if it’s not, let it go for now.

I know, scary isn’t it? But I mean it – just let it go.

You’ll get it done, just not today. This alone has made a huge difference to structuring my day and not letting my to-do list overwhelm me. And guess what? More often than not I find that these little non crucial tasks I used to fret about so much have a strange way of resolving themselves or disappearing altogether without any negative repercussions whatsoever.

Funny how that works isn’t it?

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12 Comments

  • Anne Bodee-Galivan

    Reply Reply March 12, 2013

    As a “to-do-er” for many a year, I will share my method.

    I have a long list of things that may need to get done this week, or can wait for a few months. I write down everything on this list because otherwise I’m likely to forget something. For instance, if I find a curriculum in February that I need to order in August for my homeschooled son, it goes on the list.

    By the way, I call this list my “Get It Done” list. I group tasks on this list by topic or urgency, which helps when I want to peruse it to make sure I haven’t forgotten something important.

    Besides that list though, I often write a quick list of what I want to get done this week. I don’t have a daily list, as you do, because my life is far too fluid as a full-time mom (and part-time entrepreneur) with three boys still living at home.

    I find that I am almost always able to get done what I need to get done for the week, partly because I make it specific AND reasonable. If we make lists that are unreasonable, we are just setting ourselves up for failure!

    • Kirsty

      Reply Reply March 13, 2013

      That’s the key Anne – ‘specific AND reasonable’. You’ve really hit the nail on the head there. It’s really interesting to hear other people’s ‘To Do’ or ‘Get it Done’ methods – mainly because there seems to be so much to do you wonder how everybody else is doing it all! Thanks for your input Anne.

  • Anne Bodee-Galivan

    Reply Reply March 12, 2013

    P.S. I love how you say you “sat down and had a think.” I say that phrase too! Never heard anyone else before use it as I do…though it does remind me of Pooh Bear who, while stuck in Rabbit’s hole, claimed he was “just resting and thinking!”

  • I have relaxing and fun stuff on my work to-do list. It really helps stick to it, when the next task is Eat A Brownie!

    • Kirsty

      Reply Reply May 12, 2013

      Ha, brilliant Rosie! Something I might consider adding to mine… :o)

  • Lisa Finn

    Reply Reply March 30, 2014

    I’ve found the way to stick to my to-do list is to NOT check email first thing in the morning. This can sidetrack me into putting other people’s priorities and needs before my own. During this “wake-up time” I instead can get a to-do done! My clients can wait until 8 am for me to respond.

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply March 31, 2014

      Sure they can! Great point Lisa. I’ve actually got into this habit since writing this post. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Catherine

    Reply Reply July 8, 2015

    I’m such a fan of action oriented to-do lists and this post was timely! I finally dumped all those ideas in my head into my Trello lists – one for each project/business. It feels so good to be able to organize them (now, later, someday) and then cross off the ones that I’ve accomplished!

    • Kirsty Stuart

      Reply Reply July 8, 2015

      Good for you Catherine. Just don’t let the lists get too long! 😉

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