If you struggle with creating a plan for your week ahead, I have some helpful tips that will guide you in the direction of how to create the perfect to-do list so.
Setting up a weekly game plan that is smooth and productive rather than overwhelming and frustrating, is something quite a few people struggle with. It seems we have more to do than there are hours in a day and because of that most of our to-do list gets lost in the shuffle of our homes never really going anywhere after they are written up.
The trick when creating a to-do list is to first make sure the list is absolutely complete. I know this sounds counterintuitive, however, knowing that everything is on that list allows you to relax knowing that the clutter is out of your head and finally down on paper. But this is only the first step, there are a few more you need to do when creating the perfect to-do list. A to-do list that instead of running from, you use to create a schedule for the week ahead that is not only realistic but attainable too.
When I was a young mom of 4 young boys, I remember how I would look at my to-do list with pride. Just seeing how many things were on my list wasn’t daunting but instead more like a badge of honor. I would tell my friends just how crazy long my list was and how many things I needed to do and, in my head at least, that meant I was killing it as a wife and mother.
The funny thing is, that list never really got checked off. EVER. It just sat there day after day until it finally got buried under random papers and mess never to be heard from again. Back then, a to-do list was a sign of how busy I was and not a tool to help me be LESS busy. That thought never even occurred to me until many years later.
How to Create the Perfect Yo-Do List
Step #1. Get it All Down on Paper
I like to call this a brain dump and it might be one of the most therapeutic things you will do today. When I talk to people about clutter we usually talk about their homes, little do they realize that our minds can get just as cluttered as our homes can. We have so many thoughts, things we need to do, problems, struggles, action items, all running around in our heads. And with all this noise it can be hard to get a moment’s peace. The first step in creating the perfect to-do list is to get all of those thoughts and ideas down onto paper. This will be your master action list and your weekly starting point going forward.
How it works.
Grab yourself a notebook and a pen or a pencil and find a seat that is distraction-free. Give yourself some time to work through the stuff that is rolling around in your head. Get compfy and start writing. Put everything down no matter how small it is, no matter how much you are sure you will remember to do it later on. The trick to this step working is to really write down everything that is swimming around in your head. From doing the laundry to setting up your 401k at work. Write it down on paper no matter what it is or how unimportant you feel it is.
Step #2. Do an Initial Sort
Now that you have everything written down on paper we will need to go through each item removing anything that is not realistic. It’s true when you do a brain dump your list may seem a bit scattered, but by getting all of that stuff out of your head and down onto paper you are giving those thoughts and ideas a voice. This, in turn, allows you to take a step back and actually look at what was cluttering around in your head.
Some of those things may be meant for another date, some may even be unattainable, and those are items you can quickly remove. A few examples might be, stain the back deck this summer (when it’s only October) or buy my dream car. When you remove these distractions you are more able to realistically see what needs your attention now and what can wait until later. Go ahead and cross those items off.
Next, with a yellow highlighter go through your list and highlight anything that is a “this week” item. These are the things that are at the top of the list, those items that need to be done within the next 7 days.
Step # 3. Estimate Your Time
When you have tasks on your list highlighted in yellow, with a pen go back and next to each item write an approximate time for how long it will take to complete it. By doing this it will allow you to more easily tuck these tasks into your schedule.
Step #4. Grab Your Calendar
Now that you know what items will get your attention this week, we need to see what your schedule looks like. This is where your calendar comes in whether that be your personal calendar, your family calendar, your work calendar, or a combination of all three. The key is to know how much time you have each day so you can schedule tasks that allow you enough time to complete them.
So, if for example, if you see that you have a major project do on Tuesday for work you should not be penciled in, “Bake cookies for this weekend’s picnic” on Monday.
Remember, your calendar, your to-do list, even your smartphone are all meant to be tools to help you streamline your week in a way that you are working smarter not harder. This all starts with a realistic plan each and every day.
Armed with a pencil and go through your schedule day by day and block off time where you are able to work on things from your to-do list. Begin scheduling in items that make sense to the amount of time you have available to work. If you only have 10 minutes, then scheduling appointments might be a great task to work on. If you have 45, then working in the flower gardens might be a better fit.
Step #5. Remember You!
When I first started creating and using my own to-do list, I continually made one mistake every time. I would completely skip penciling in time for me. Sure, you may think you will remember to grab a bite to eat but when the day really gets going, how many times do you look up at the clock and see it’s 2 p.m. and you haven’t come up for air yet. By penciling in break times you are allowing yourself to pace the day at a more realistic rate.
Remember, and I know I sound like a broken record, but your to-do list is there to help you be more productive without wasting time. Your to-do list is not there to control you, and in turn, taking away the joy of the day ahead.
Pencil in time to enjoy a tall glass of water and maybe a few minutes outside in the sunshine. Don’t forget the time for lunch and some extra time to read a few pages in your favorite magazine. Recharge and re-energized is an important part of our daily schedule and a major component to a day we can look back on with joy.
Step #6. Revisit Each Morning
With your day to day outline of your weekly to-do list set up, it is important to finalize things each morning before you actually begin your day. Schedules can change rather quickly and because of that, I like to do a review before I begin the day ahead. Look over the schedule you have written down and make any adjustments as needed. Being so close to the start of the day you should have a better idea of what is actually coming up and you can then make adjustments by moving things around to make a more realistic game plan for the day ahead.
I like to do morning game plans before I dive into my day because it allows me to get myself centered and focused. I can see if my afternoon is going to be a bit hectic allowing me to get mentally prepared for that time frame.
Step #7. Follow Along
Once you have your to-do list set up for the week, and you’ve revisited your schedule for that particular day, the rest is quite simple. Simply follow along. I like to check things off as I go so I can be sure that my progress is healthy and actionable.
D/M PRO TIP: Use a yellow highlighter to check things off of your to-do list. This will allow you to see what the task was just in case you need to go back later on.
Your daily calendar is almost like a journal. It allows you to see all the tasks that you perform day by day giving you a great place to review how you’re living your life. Too much work and not enough play? That is a good sign that you may need to get in there and adjust your schedule a bit to help you create a healthier one.
Stop #8. Rinse and Repeat
Each Sunday is the day that I like to do my own weekly brain dump. A fresh new list that I can then use to compare to the one from the week before. This allows me to compare items on my list with my old one. I will usually transfer over anything from last week’s list to this weeks to be sure I have everything on there that needs my attention. I know this exercise sounds like an unnecessary one, but by writing the tasks down I am more able to see what is getting pushed further and further back week by week. When I see myself writing the same task down each Sunday, that is my way of telling myself it’s time to make it a high action item and something that needs to be done in the upcoming week. This really helps to keep up with those annoying tasks that we tend to put off until it is too late. I like to call these Back Burner Tasks. Things that we consistently pushed to the back burner but we know they need to be done.
Putting front and center those tasks that you have been pushing back will help you to get them off of your own list for good. And when you do, you will feel a sense of relief that you really must experience to truly enjoy. Get it done, get it checked off the list, and feel that 10lb weight of guilt for not doing it earlier lift almost instantly.
Step #9. Schedule Scheduling Time
Last but not least, we need to make sure that this task is on your list each and every week. Planning is important, and something you should have on your weekly schedule. And now that you have the exact steps, it should not be a time-consuming project week after week. The first time you do this it may take a bit longer than you plan. As you find your footing and your own specific path you may actually enjoy your weekly planning day.
It feels good to know exactly what is coming up for the week ahead. Keep your focus on the list so you can end the week successfully.
Creating the perfect to-do list sometimes requires us to take a step back and really evaluate what is on our list. This will help you pick out the most important, giving an estimate of how long it will take to complete that task, penciling things out into our schedule where they fit the best, re-evaluating before we start the day, then diving and simply following along is all you need to do to set up your own perfect to-do list.