Great Tips to Manage Your "To-Do" List

Face it, we all have a lot to do. On any given day, our to-do lists include:

  • Work responsibilities
  • Home responsibilities
  • School schedules and activities
  • Errands
  • Phone calls
How do you keep track of it all? If you're like most people, not as effectively or efficiently as you could.
  • Is your office full of yellow notes stuck to every surface?
  • Do you have separate to-do lists? One for home and one for the office? Or perhaps you have multiple lists for each?
  • Do you grab envelopes or even napkins to jot down things that pop into your head while you are driving?
  • How many different notepads are on your desk right now that include action items or to-dos? Be honest.
  • Is your purse overflowing with scraps of paper that include jotted to-dos or phone messages?
  • What about your kitchen counter? Is it full of notes, grocery lists, and personal to-dos?
  • To manage your to-do lists in the most efficient way, consolidate them into one master list.

Time management expert Kenneth Zeigler is a big proponent of using a master list. In his book Organizing for Success, he says, "The purpose of a master list is to get everything out of your head. A master list is a journal of thoughts and activities as they occur. The mind can organize what you need to accomplish more effectively when it can see everything you need to complete."

How to Get Started

Find the right tool - You need to find a tool that works for you to capture your consolidated master list. Some may find that a simple notepad does the trick. Others may want to use a spiral notebook specifically designed for tracking tasks. Consider using an electronic note system such as Evernote.

Make sure the tool is portable - As to-dos pop into your head, you need a place to record them so make sure the tool you choose is portable. If you're using an electronic note system, carry a small notebook with you at all times to record thoughts, ideas, to-dos, and commitments. You can transfer these to your electronic note organizer at the end of the day.

Consolidate all of your lists - Once you've selected the right tool, gather all of your various to-do lists. Transfer all tasks and items to your new master list. Don't worry about putting them in any particular order. You are simply capturing in one place every single thing you need to do. Don't be surprised if your master list is quite long.

Adding to your master list - As you go throughout your day and think of things you need to do, add them to your master list. As you are assigned tasks, add them to your list. As your children tell you about the things they need for school, add them to your list. As you think of errands you need to run, add them to your list.

Your Daily Action List

Either the night before or first thing each morning, review your master list. Select the tasks, jobs, and commitments that must be done that day and transfer them to a daily action list. Remember to be reasonable about what you can actually accomplish that day. Your daily action list becomes your working plan for the day.

Ongoing Maintenance
On a regular basis, your to-do list now works as follows: 

  • You have one master list for all to-dos.
  • As you go through your day and think of or are assigned additional tasks, add them to your master to-do list.
  • Each day, you will review your master to-do list and transfer today's priorities to a daily action list.
  • Periodically, evaluate your master list. You may find, due to cross-offs and additional notes that have been added to the margin, that it makes sense to copy the remaining outstanding items to a new master list. Don't throw away the old list. Keep it for historical review and future reference.

    By following this process, you will find that you are more efficient, more on top of tasks, and that you're getting more done.

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