Words by Tess Robinson, Smack Bang Designs
Like most entrepreneurs, a hefty chunk of my productivity and sanity is owed to a having a great support network and epic team – oh, and by always writing a kick-ass to do list each day.
Without my to-do list I would probably be in hospital getting my limbs sewn back onto my torso from a classic case of trying to run in too many different directions at once. Without my to-do list I would likely be a nervous wreck trying to learn how to teleport so that I can be in two places at once. Without my to-do list I would absolutely be staring blankly at a white wall trying to slow my racing mind down to prevent one thought obliterating the next.
My to-do list is my bestie, and here’s my five cents on how to make the most out of it:
KEEP IT REAL
I know how it goes; you wake up, you smash a coffee and sit down at your desk feeling super pumped and ready to take on the world. With a never-ending landscape of time ahead of you, you fill your to-do list with a billion tasks knowing that you’ll easily finish them all by 2pm so that you can clock off and head to the local pond to feed bread to the ducks and ponder the meaning of life. Perrrrfect. Truth? That ain’t happenin’ anytime soon, my friend. Calm the hell down and be reasonable with yourself. If your to do-list isn’t realistic, you’ll end up finishing your day feeling like the kid that missed the Mr Whippy van – majorly bummed out.
When you’ve got a long list of things to do in front of you, it can send you straight into paralysis mode. Prioritising your to-do list by order of urgency will show you what you need to concentrate on today and what can wait until tomorrow, allowing you to breathe easier in return. Start the list with at least two items that absolutely must get done today, so you don’t end up vacuuming under the couch instead of finishing a project report due tomorrow.
ONE THING AT A TIME
Easier said than done: pick one thing off your list and do it! Once that’s done, do another thing. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you try to juggle five tasks at the same time, chances are you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed and outnumbered. Write things down as soon as you think of them so nothing slips through the cracks. Then pick one thing first and see it through. Reward yourself with cheese or a Jimmy Fallon YouTube clip. Just one! Okay, three.
On the occasion that I manage to write my list the night before, I wake up to singing birds and talking deer and coffee brewing and wafts of almond danishes through my door. Legit, writing your list the night before gives you the clarity and rational mind to not assume you can dust off 15 blog posts and teach yourself HTML coding all before noon. Writing your list in the morning can sometimes make you feel like you’re already one step behind, which is sort of depressing when the goal is winning.
And on that point, step away from the cliff in your mind telling you that you’re a failure because you didn’t get it all right, all the time. Don’t write an unrealistic list the length of Santa’s just to remind yourself that it’s not possible. Break the habit of martyrdom and set yourself up for more wins. Unrealistic expectations on yourself do nothing but drain energy and make you reach (again) for the Cadbury block. Eat that chocolate because you’re stoked, not miserable!
PICK A MEDIUM
To-do lists come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s all about what works for the individual. Some research suggests writing information by hand helps us remember it better, but if you last picked up a pen in 1998, fear not: there’s a huge range of digital apps that help create personal to-do lists. Have a to do list that travels with you. I find that Google Docs are the bee’s knees.
You know you need to make a list, so now comes the actual crux: you have to write it down. Schedule time to schedule – sounds a bit wacky but you will relax in the knowledge that there is time set aside to write a nice list and take back some small bit of control over your life. Take that, chaos!
Make a new list every day so the same old items don’t clog up the agenda. It’s also a useful way to make sure we actually get something done every 24 hours and don’t just spend time decorating the paper with colourful smelly pens. Don’t use your email inbox as your to-do list. It’s just too tough to prioritise the big to-do’s from the small annoying ones that clutter up your inbox. Start fresh and start strong.
Eat the frog for breakfast, and the rest of your day will follow on nicely behind it. Once you tackle that monster task, you’ll feel in control and on top of the world! And maybe a little bit French. Tres bon! And on that note, effectively prioritising means only having one to-do list. Keep it simple, keep it real and keep hopping until you get into a solid to-do list rhythm. You’ll get there.