Drawing up effective to-do lists

No matter the format, what you write down gets done. According to Dave Kohl, a professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, people who regularly write down their goals earn nine times more over their lifetimes than people who don’t.

No matter the format, what you write down gets done.

According to Dave Kohl, a professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, people who regularly write down their goals earn nine times more over their lifetimes than people who don’t. Think about that. No matter how lofty or simple your goals may be, reaching them requires a systematic approach. That begins by writing down your to-do list. Don’t just think it, ink it!

Note-taking and list-making styles are as personal as the way you dress or cook. We’d never suggest that you ditch an approach that’s working perfectly well for you in favor of a newfangled “system.” But if you are dissatisfied with your own system, we’ve got a few thoughts on how to adjust your list so you’re cruising through it more effectively and efficiently.

Alicia on “The Big Benefit”

No matter which way you write things down, you most likely feel positive about lists. We recently surveyed 339 women to get a better sense for their to- do-list habits. A whopping 85 per cent agreed with the statement, “I like to make lists and make them frequently; they help me feel like I’ve got things under control.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement. I use three legal pads: long-term, weekly and daily — and I keep them with me all the time. I’ve been keeping my to-do lists this way for more than 10 years. It keeps me sane. Why do we love them so? Because they transfer thoughts and tasks that would otherwise take up precious brain space and park them in a safe place. They free you up so you can focus on what’s really important.

Sarah on “The Importance of Picking a Spot for Your Lists”

I strongly recommend writing your lists down in something that you’ve earmarked specifically for your ideas and lists.

This may sound basic, but it’s really a huge step. Why? Because those haphazard notes and lists on a sticky note posted near your computer screen or desk so you “don’t forget” are really just a source of distraction and stress. For example, you’re finishing up your week’s report in the office, and every once in a while you glance at the note on your monitor and think “Buy milk” and “Pick up the cleaning,” which then can morph into “What are we going to have for dinner?” or “What other errands are on the way to the dry cleaner?” Pretty soon, fingers that were tapping on the keyboard as you focus on writing the week’s report stop typing and now you’re staring at a hangnail and thinking about chicken marsala. Whenever you’re distracted, you’re less productive and can end the day saying to yourself, “What did I do today?” The other problem with random notes and lists is that they’re focused on the short-term. They rob you of your ability to look over everything on your list and choose priorities (what’s really important to you) and plan (how to accomplish your priorities each day, week and month). Planning also gives you the opportunity to consider which tasks on your to-do list you’d like to delegate.

Here are a few more tips to help you tune up your to-do list:

1. Write It All Down In One Notebook — Professional and Personal

Figure out a way to keep track of both the big picture and the details — for your family, your work and you personally. The reason it’s important to manage more than just the usual task-specific details and keep an eye on the bigger picture is simple. If you follow through on the things that you write down, then choosing what to write down means you’re in charge of shaping your life. But you may want to keep work and home to-do lists in separate tabs or on separate pages in the notebook. That way, when you’re at work, and want to review the priorities for the day, you can simply look at to-dos for work and not be distracted by what needs to be done at home, and visa versa.

2. Rewrite and Consolidate Frequently

Rewrite your lists routinely — daily and/or weekly. With a clean, current list, you can get started quickly and focus on the task at hand, instead of trying to figure out what the next task will be. Rewriting and consolidating will force you to eliminate the messy cross-outs and distracting little posted notes and add new items from many different sources onto one list. It will also remind you to prioritize the duties for the week — ideally, putting the top three at the top of your list.

3. Establish a Morning To-Do Routine

Look over your lists each morning before you start your day. This will help you focus on what is most important to accomplish that day. This should not take more than three minutes, but it is worth the time to get the day off to a productive start.

(The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to yourlife(at)getbuttonedup.com. For more columns, go to scrippsnews.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)

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