10 To Do List Tips [Bonus: Printable To Do Lists To Get Organized]
Getting organized — and staying organized — can help you get things done, feel more fulfilled, and clear your mind for more creative thought!
A cornerstone of every organization “system” are to do lists. Below, are my Top 10 To Do List tips. FYI: I use the online organization tool Remember the Milk to manage my to do lists online.
Note: If you’re familiar with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done,” system/book, some of the ideas below will look familiar. However, I’ve taken my own approach, as you will see throughout this post. Also, the following tips are specifically designed for getting organized at work. However, you could easily apply them to your personal life as well.
- Create the system that’s right for you. For years I used a paper-based version of the to do list system outlined below. Just over a year ago, I moved to a completely online system. Really, it comes down to the tools you want to use (or already use) in your daily routine. Are you online a lot? Do you have a web browser on your phone or Blackberry? If so, I’d recommend using the tips below with Remember the Milk. Are you less concerned with the “digital world”? That’s just fine, you can use a paper-based system just as effectively!
- Create only 3 lists: “To Do List,” “Waiting For,” and “Someday/Maybe.” Then, put all of your to dos on your 3 new lists, as outlined below. Remember, it’s fine to create more lists, segment lists into areas (i.e. “To Dos by Client,” or “Project A’s Someday/Maybe list”), etc., but really try to keep it simple for now. You can always refine later!
- Your “To Do List” is the new home for all of the current things you need to get done. Personally, I like to have a motivational quote at the top of my list, and separate out my Top 3 for today (see Tips #9 and #10 below), Calls I need to make, and the rest of my To Dos.
- Paper-based Tip: You can use sticky notes to write down your Top 3 for today, and simply slap today’s note on top of your To Do List.
- Your “Waiting For” list should contain all of the things you are waiting on others to do, including stuff you’ve delegated. Be sure to list WHO you are waiting for at the beginning of the item for easy scanning later (i.e. “Doug: Revised Strategic Plan”)
- Your “Someday/Maybe” list is a place to store all the crazy ideas, brainstorm session results, stuff you just can’t think to hard about right now, and dreams that you have but that may never happen. It’s a place to actively “remember” new ideas!
- Start each item on your to do list with an action verb. This is a subtle, but powerful tip. It has helped transform my lists into lists of action! Just by starting a to do with “Call…” or “Determine…” or “Present…” you get your mind thinking about taking action.
- Dedicate some time to review your lists. Just like with email, your to do lists are a “thing” that needs attention. Even taking just 5 minutes at the beginning and end of each day will help you focus on what you need to do, and ensure you are keeping your lists up-to-date.
- Develop easy ways to keep your to do lists up-to-date. Your lists are little help to you if the things you need to do are not in them! Find ways to make sure you keep them updated.
- Each morning, make a list of 3 things you need to do today. By limiting yourself to only 3 things, you set yourself up for success. Also, it means you have to go through your lists and decide what is most important. And don’t pick more than 3 — most days don’t go as planned, and you need to be easy on yourself (that’s very hard in today’s world). By only picking 3 things, you give yourself the time necessary to do those other things that come up!
- Don’t let your system run your life! Always do the right things first. We all have 1,000′s of things to do. You can easily let your well-organized to do lists run your life, and settle into being a “task doer” at work. Don’t let that happen! This to do list system is strictly a “place” to keep all of your to dos, not a direction on what to do. Deciding what to do — and how you want to react to what you have to do — takes thought, prioritization, and intuition.