‘To do’ List: Forming Good Habits

Graphic image showing list of things to do - making a plan.
‘ To Do’ List (Example)

A ‘To Do’ List can help you focus…

Do you make ‘to do’ lists? Are there days when you have so many things to do you don’t know where to focus? Does this make you feel overwhelmed? Well, if you actively sit down and put your thoughts, needs and desires on paper in the form of a list, it can help you prepare your day.

Not only will you feel more organised, making a daily list is a good way to ensure you form new habits that bring about positive life changes. I am sure many of you can relate to going grocery shopping and coming home with way more than you intended, plus forgetting some things you need. Also, spending far more time doing so. Why? Because you didn’t make a list.

When you do things on a daily basis, they can become easier and you become proficient.

The items do not have to be in any specific order. The purpose of the list is to rationally calm your mind. It will then act as a reminder of what you wish to accomplish within a certain timeframe.

Inspiration from Great Leaders Who Make ‘To Do’ Lists

Warren Buffett is a household name when it comes to success. An article that can be found in Business Insider tells the story about how he and his pilot discussed goals and ambitions and implemented a 3 Step Strategy. He asked his pilot to write down 25 goals he wanted to achieve. However, 25 as you can imagine is quite a lot! Much like the 21 items I put in the image above. Some goals take longer and have a higher input than others. Buffett then asks his pilot to circle the 5 most important things on that list – there is no leeway for 6, 7, 8 etc.

Once his pilot had narrowed this number down, Buffett asks what, when and how will the pilot start working on his top 5 prioritised tasks. The pilot knows what he wants to do, who he will get to support him and when he will take action.

What he wasn’t expecting was for Buffett to tell him to disregard his second list – all the items he didn’t circle. He had thought (as many of us would) he could work on these alongside as he made progress with the main choices. This is where making a not ‘to do’ list differs. This second list of uncircled items is the ‘don’t do’! They must be avoided until the five top choices have been completed. All the other items eat away time, weave their way in the back of your mind and will be distracting, maintaining noise over your main focus. And this is what causes overwhelm.

Click on the Business Insider article linked above to read the full story and have a go at weeding out your own not ‘to do’ list.

The Eisenhower Matrix and 4 D’s

Another method of organising tasks can be found using the ‘Eisenhower Matrix‘. Here the idea is to maximise time management and achieve end goals by sorting the urgent important tasks away from the less urgent. Then implement the 4 D’s. Ask yourself, do you have to do it or can you delegate to someone else? Would you be better deleting some items on your list as they waste valuable time with no lasting foreseeable outcome?

Adaptation image for a 'to do' list using Eisenhower's Matrix and 4D's
An adapted example of how to use Eisenhower’s Matrix and combine the 4 D’s of Time Management: Do, (Decide)/Defer, Delegate, Delete!

Above I have adapted Eisenhower’s Matrix and 4 D’s using my example list in the first image. I simplistically made up ‘to do’ items based on business tasks, household chores and *Me time. I’ll explain the ‘Me’ list later.

To Do

As it was Saturday, I thought about the fact I would like to update my Business Blog on a more regular basis. I needed to give this some attention now. Adding a blog item can increase your visibility rating not only with Google but also you can use it to update a social media status.

More than anything I like to reflect and add a little value. To do that, I need to do some research! So this comprises the first 3 items on my list of ‘Do now’.

The household task that might cause me some embarrassment if I put off would be ‘washing’. Whilst it is getting lighter and slightly warmer, clothes still take a little time to dry!

My *Me List? Ah, well, actually, this should come first. And it did. I sat with my coffee, relaxed and made a Plan of Action – ‘to do List’.

To Decide/Defer (Date)

I already have a website that functions well, has interactivity and I can update. My aim would be to improve the skills I constantly add to self-coding, fluidity, SEO etc. With the help of the several courses, I purchased that I have mentioned in earlier blog items. Here, I could schedule a date to tackle this later or at least put off until tomorrow. But it is something I want to do myself.

Emails! Don’t we all have a cluttered inbox at times? Well, yes, but… they don’t have to be read or replied to this minute. I’m very good at keeping on top of queries. The rest may be newsletters and updates I’ve subscribed to and many could go in the ‘Delete’ decision box without consuming too much time.

Being the beginning of a new financial year for me, my accounts are pretty up to date with one outstanding client on annual leave.

My household tasks … well, the washing will take up a fair bit of time, so sensibly, knowing that our refuse collection is on Monday, I can work on Sunday towards more clearing and the recycling. This is an ongoing task that could do with setting further break down stages to achieve by certain dates. The danger of not doing so is turning a blind eye on something that has the tendency to overwhelm. Time passes quickly (Five years since I moved)!

To Delegate

So, what about the tasks I added that I don’t need to do personally and could give to someone else? I’m sure if I smile sweetly and ask politely, one of my family might make me a cup of coffee, or even tidy and hoover? I do need to learn how to let go of tasks. I’m not the only one who can do things, contrary to my often prominent feeling of the need to be in control!

Along with tackling the main tasks in my original list, I have covered a few others that weren’t added to the boxes. Such as ‘Marketing’. If you are an SME just starting out or an established company – guaranteed there will be times when you have staff holidays or tasks that you would like to delegate. Or outsource to a Virtual Assistant. SME startups may not be ready to take on a full-time admin professional and can benefit greatly from reliable ad hoc support.

You might even be working on a Report right now that you could do with for Monday but think, who else works at the weekend? You can free up your time used researching for your business plan. Why not get a transcription of your podcast or video that you could use for your own blog item?

If you are reading this as a student you might be looking for methods to try planning your assignment or exam study dates. Perhaps you are undertaking research interviews (or a consultant attending conferences). With recorded audio it would be helpful if you could highlight and read or know where to skip to on the recording.

To Delete

I didn’t really have anything to put in this box other than ‘reward’. It isn’t essential to reward yourself. But I include it here for the days where overwhelm has set in and getting started on things like ‘de-cluttering’ even thinking about it, can have me sitting worrying rather than doing.

By adding the reward thought to my list, I can put a positive image in front of a task that moves me out of my comfort zone. I then set a time limit breaking up the task in manageable bites. With something to look forward to it really makes a difference. This process can be repeated. However, make sure you also set a time limit on the reward. Especially if you enjoy spending time watching telly, playing games or following social media.

To gain a practical working example of the 4 D’s in action, why not watch this short video presented by ‘DecisionSkills’ on YouTube:

Another helpful article on how to use the 4 D’s method can be found on Forbes – ‘How To Use The 4 Ds Of Effective Time Management

The Pareto Analysis

By now you will be getting ideas of how to perfect your ‘to do’ and ‘to don’t’ lists. What about the order you take on tasks? Do you get put off by knowing some tasks are going to take a lot of effort and that list is still hard going?

The Pareto Analysis devised by Vilfredo Pareto, (1896) is based on the thought that there is an 80/20 rule. 80% of combined tasks might be resolved using only 20% resources. Find these in your list first to maximise impact and save effort.

If we look at my business example, I have a blog, social media and research. These are three items I want to tackle and by writing this blog item, I effectively cover all three. Coming up with fresh ideas to write about can be hard. Finding value to add for readers also hard. Trying to think up a social media update – not always on the tip of your tongue. However, by looking at what I wanted to achieve, and making a plan of action using research I knew would be helpful has given me a worthy subject. I could effectively tick off everything in my ‘urgent/important’ box in one action. Except for the washing!

As I mentioned earlier in my ‘delegate’ paragraphs, I have also completed the tasks on the original list for ‘Marketing’ and on publishing this blog item, I will update the ‘News’ section on my website showing Google I have new information and my website is active. So, my ‘website’ is receiving attention as well.

Procrastination, Decision Making – Mental Health and using a ‘to do’ List

On my household ‘deferred’ list, I have ‘declutter and recycle’. Now, the chances are I defer this constantly because I can’t see my way around the amount I need to ‘remove’ to make space and appear less cramped. I ‘downsized’ on my last move from a four bedroom semi-detached bungalow with garage and two outhouses. We found a hidden basement – a year and a half after living there. There was also a huge loft and utility room. I now have a four bedroom maisonette without the extras.

I feel very conscious about the amount we as humans waste and put in the landfill. And at the same time, I have held onto things, as you do. “Don’t put that out, it may have a use!” (Even though I might not have looked at it in over 5 years.)

I could also look at my ‘delegate’ list items ‘tidy/hoover’. Perhaps the hoovering and tidying is a bind because of lack of storage? ‘Letting go’ for people like me (sentimental) is hard. But if I look rationally, I could combine all these tasks together and solve many problems and make daily living easier. It all lies in ‘making a decision’. Sometimes when it comes to memories, I find that impossible.

A Positive Plan of Action helps you stay on track

So, making a plan of action, breaking tasks down and setting a scheduled goal date will help! It won’t matter too much if I don’t complete everything by that date, but at least I have set an ideal to work towards.

Probably a better way of looking at this is to check what tasks you have to do and what requires the less amount of time or mental effort. So, if I went back to one long list and didn’t want to separate out the tasks, I can immediately see that hoovering and making coffee are fairly effortless and take very little time – knock off two!

The reason I added a Me – ‘to do’ List

At some point or other statistically according to Mind (2017) “Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.”

Sadly, we don’t always recognise when we are slipping under and can live in denial. Mental health stigma doesn’t help people who need to reach out, do so. Often you can reach breaking point before you add a little TLC and self-care into the equation.

I’ve always been extremely sensitive, and struggle with feeling inadequate. I want to make everybody happy and often this leads me to believe if they are not, I must have done something. Or not done something! I know I’m not alone and humans are good at masking emotions or picking up the wrong signals. Signals that don’t even exist. I have also been a mother and carer for many years.

One of the things I have learnt is just how useful it can be to make a ‘to do’ list that helps to distract negative thoughts. This list doesn’t have to be goals, targets and ambitions, but gentle actions, things you enjoy. So, here is my Me – ‘to do’ List today:

Image showing list of positive actions
A positive ‘Me’ ‘to do’ List

How Did I Do?

Well, I’ve had 3 cups of coffee. This morning I visited Twitter and Facebook, catching up on friends photos and news – this made me ‘smile‘. I read the news. Then I made my Plan of Action for today with a blog article decided on. After that, I went downstairs (reward) and watched a YouTube video on ‘Woke Advertising’ with my daughter. Then I caught up with last night’s ‘The Last Leg’. Love that show! And of course, started to work on the list of Actions.

Later, I came back upstairs and meditated on what I had written. It wasn’t an ‘Omm’ moment, just closed eyes, relaxed thoughts on where my writing was going to lead, what to research more on (articles I could link to) and how to construct a satisfactory closure. Now, I am reflecting and considering. I can safely say, I have completed all I had listed in this column and most of what I have prioritised in the first.

Tomorrow is Sunday and a day to give the house some love and appreciation (Although, I did work on some parts).

I could easily have procrastinated more, made no decisions, sunk under the feeling of, ‘there’s too much to do…’ but by organising, at least a little, I feel I achieved. And… I’m still smiling!

Other ways to make your Me ‘to do’ List

Coming back to mental health, one good way to help you get through the day is to put together a box of ‘kindness’. Make a list of things you like to do. ‘Do a crossword’, ‘paint your nails’, ‘play guitar’, ‘take a bubble-bath with candles’, ‘explore YouTube’, ‘go hug your pet’, ‘read a book’, ‘watch a comedy or your favourite show’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘make a list of things that make you smile’, ‘play a game’, ‘learn something new’, ‘write out positive quotes that have inspired you’ … it doesn’t have to be complex or long, just enough to distract you away from the thoughts making you feel isolated, anxious, depressed, fearful or disconnected. Take each idea and write it on a small piece of paper and fold it up. Then place in your ‘kindness’ box to dip into. Keep it nearby.

Move the Goal Posts Closer…

Importantly, don’t punish yourself with feelings of guilt or unnecessary over the top, unmanageable tasks. Focus on achieving things on your list one moment at a time, and carry over the things you cannot manage right now. Work on the things needing done that are urgent or necessary. By now we have established it’s not everything today. And reach out for help from others, even if it is only for a few minutes talking over the hurdles you cannot work out yourself for moral support! Sometimes the roundabout feels like there are no exit routes. That could be because we jumped on too fast to notice the signs and we have to go around again to try and see what we missed. That’s okay! Slowing down and trying again will improve your focus and help you on the journey you have begun.

I’ll end by leaving one more really good read. This time from Harvard Business Review “How to Focus on What’s Important, Not Just on What’s Urgent” – Alice Boyes

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