By Will Newman
To-do lists are effective time-management tools – but only if they’re easy to use. Here are six strategies for making your to-do lists work hard for you.
1. Keep it simple.
Whether you use a computer-based to-do list or a paper tablet, it must be simple. If it’s too complex, you won’t use it… guaranteed. I keep my to-do lists on a 5″ x 7″ paper tablet. I list “major” tasks to be accomplished, with big sub-steps underneath each one. For example, “Edit The Golden Thread e-letter for AWAI” is a major task of mine. “Write main article,” “write Quick Tip,” and “write Introduction” are big sub-steps.
Note: A major task is not necessarily one that takes a long time.
2. Limit yourself.
Small paper tablets work well, because there’s a limit to how much you can write on a page. I stick to a maximum of 10 tasks, all of which can be accomplished within a week of when I list them.
3. Set a due date – and stick to it.
Due dates help prioritize what you do and when. Do not work on tasks in the order in which you write them down. Jot down the due date beside each one, and do them in the order of their deadlines.
4. Use a dark marker to reinforce your feeling of accomplishment.
Cross off sub-steps as you complete them with a regular pen. Use a dark marker to cross off the major tasks. Boy, does it feel good!
5. Redo the list every workday.
Do it every evening. This gives you a clear idea of what you have to do before the end of the next day.
6. Add “pop-ups” to your list.
When something pops up during the day that has to be attended to (such as an important phone call), add it to your to-do list – even if you’ve already done it. Then cross it off. To-do lists not only tell you what you have to do, they can tell you if you’re using your time well.
[Ed. Note: Will Newman is the editor of AWAI’s The Golden Thread online newsletter – a free weekly alert loaded with writing and marketing secrets, tips, and insights.]