How to Write a To-Do List

You'd think it'd be easy as sitting down with pen and paper, but a proper To-Do List has focus and more importantly an "end date".

I love to-do lists. For one, it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I cross something off the list, but it also keeps me on target so I don't waste time doing something tangential.

If you're like me, you probably have a dozen things at any moment that either distract, worry, or interrupts what you should be doing.

But I'll give you my favorite trick for getting something done--especially if it's something I don't want to do.

I do it for exactly fifteen minutes. I can do anything for fifteen minutes. Why this works though is because once you get started you'll discover one of two things. Either the dreaded project takes less than fifteen minutes, or you're so involved that you don't want to quit. Either scenario gets the job done.

My average to-do list usually revolves around stuff I need to do around the homestead. It can be anything from putting up fence, shoveling dirt, or killing chickens. None of these are in my favorites category.

Add to that, we have to do these projects in no more than three hours because it gets so very hot here. If we can't get it done by 9am, we stop where we are and pick up the next day. The heat is just too unbearable right now. If it's a nice day, we can work all day, but we have at least a couple more months of melt weather.

Here are my top eight tips for building a successful to-do list.

  1. List in order of priority.

  2. Jot down how much time you think it will take. Sometimes if everything can get done in one day, I write down when I think each job should get done.

  3. After priority, list chores in order of difficulty. I like to tackle the harder jobs first when I have the most energy.

  4. If you're procrastinating, talk yourself into doing the dreaded chore for exactly fifteen minutes.

  5. Write down more than you think you can accomplish in one day. I find if something happens to knock out one of my planned chores, it's nice to substitute something else that needs to get done.

  6. Always write a list when you feel you're not getting any traction in your life. Seeing it on paper gives you direction.

  7. Work around your elements. If you have children knock out your to do list when they're napping or otherwise occupied. If, like me you're at the mercy of the weather, suck it up and get your chores done when the weather is good. You might not get your chance again for a while.

  8. Give yourself a reward. I'm not reward driven, but if I know I can sit back and watch my favorite movie (and possibly take-out) I'll be doubly motivated to get my work done. 

    I have a ton of things to do right now. It's embarrassing. Mostly we're hamstrung by the weather and we have to work as weather permits.

    So what's on our list this week? The top chores revolve around finishing the fence around the second garden, mowing, weeding, harvesting  (ongoing!) and cleaning pens. (That's only the outside list!) We've got some substantial tractor work in our future, but we can't start that until we finish this stuff.

    It's always something. I just wish it didn't have to happen in the middle of summer.

    How about you? What's pressing on your to-do list?

    Note: I haven't decided yet, but I might take a few weeks off after this post. I've got so much produce to process and canning is the most time consuming chore of all.


    LD Masterson said…
    I'm the worst kind of do-lister. I always think I can get more done than I do so I'm used to having items roll over to tomorrow's list. And since I'm used to that happening, it takes away the urgency of getting it done today, which kills my motivation. I've tried cutting back the items on one day's list so I have no excuse not to get them completed but then I have such a short list, I procrastinate getting started because...short list. And then I don't even get those done. I think I'm hopeless.
    the author said…
    Great ideas, especially noting the time a task takes. I might steal that one.

    E-mail has moved to the top of my online to-do list. I have woefully neglected my pals lately.

    I keep three comprehensive to-do lists (home/work/shopping), but I also have a day for every weekly task that I try to do before anything else. Today it's sweeping and mopping all of the tile floors, and cleaning the guest bathroom. I find that if I clean one or two rooms a day the house stays reasonably neat, and I don't exhaust myself.

    The big spring cleaning I did this year really helped me get the clutter under control. When surfaces are clear and things are put away, the house just feels cleaner.

    Maria Zannini said…
    Linda: One of the things that irks me about getting older is that things do take longer to get done. In my case it's the hard labor chores like moving dirt or putting up fence. One long day of pounding stakes or digging and my arms need a break the next day.

    Lists don't seem to be for you, my friend. In your case, I would make one thing your focus for the day. If you can call one thing finished, it leaves an enormous sense of satisfaction.
    Maria Zannini said…
    Lynn: As I mentioned above, some things take longer, so I've learned to give myself some leeway with the labor intensive chores.

    I groan when I see my kitchen counters right now. Every surface is full of produce and eggs, along with the machines to process them: a dehydrator, vacuum sealer, food processor, canning jars, and canner. I guess it'll look like that for a while, but I miss my clean counters.
    Mike Keyton said…
    I don't so much have a list strategy but a pounce strategy. If there's something that needs to be done I'll ignore it and then pounce. The other name for this is the sneaking up strategy. I think that cat's got the right idea.
    Maria Zannini said…
    Mike: Greg has the same method. One minute he's doing nothing and the next minute he decides to rewire the house...or something equally immense.