One Bag Nation

How Long is Your To Do List?

Posted on: July 21, 2008

Mine is ridiculously long! Impossible-to-do-it-all long! And I was tired of that.

So I thought I’d start the week by imposing some discipline on my out-of-control list. Leo at Zen Habits recommends that you focus on three “Most Important Things” each day, which makes sense to me, but I struggled with narrowing it down to three, until I realized that I needed MIT’s for both work and home.

Here was my list for today (home first, then work):

  • make weekly meal plan
  • send in Girl Scout Camp paperwork
  • package up brother’s birthday gift
  • begin work on status report
  • set up new email account
  • order printed materials

What did I do on the list? Made a loose meal plan, sent in the paperwork and started the status report – 3 out of 6 – yikes!!

What did I do instead? Went grocery shopping, cleaned the bathroom, took DD to doctor, worked out, responded to Director’s email, read a few blogs, commented on a few blogs, looked for a missing file (never found it), set up a couple of playdates, took DD to the wading pool – plus the usual household tasks and chores.

When I analyze my day like this, I realize how defeating and demoralizing a lengthy to do list can be. If I can’t make it through 6 items, it makes no sense to tackle a list five times that long!! It just adds to my anxiety.

So . . . I’m not going to add any more tasks to my list until I get the remaining three done, which I hope will be before noon tomorrow. Checking those items off my list is sure to contribute to my serenity and peace of mind!


15 Responses to "How Long is Your To Do List?"

Hi Ann,

Some days are such I don’t even look at my to do list. If something has a deadline I’m more apt to concentrate on that, but often what I wanted to get accomplished goes by the wayside and the next thing I know, I’m writing “write my to do list” on my to do list.

It’s an endless battle. 🙂 We’re all in the same boat!

Mine is always forever long too – I really try to highlight the 3 most important things to do each day and don’t do anything else before getting those done. Anything else on top of that is bonus!

Jenny 🙂

@Barbara: That makes me feel so much better! I forget to look at mine too, and then wonder why I didn’t do anything on it!
@Jenny: I’m going to try to be really disciplined about the three most important items this week!

I used to be horrible with my To Do Lists. I always took on too much! See, I write mine in a Daily Planner. I put Green check-marks on tasks I’ve completed and Red X’s for those I haven’t. Eventually I got tired of seeing so many Red X’s in a week…so much so that I forced myself to prioritize my tasks and eventually I got better at it. It took some doing but now I don’t feel as bad knowing I got things done; maybe not everything, but then again there’s always tomorrow unless we somehow revert to a 34 hour day instead of our 24.

Keeping your to-do list short makes a lot of sense. I’ve been trying to do that too.

But you actually tackled way more than 6 things, you just didn’t tackle the six things that you thought you should. So it’s not a problem with being lazy or unmotivated, it’s a problem with not recognising everything you’re doing!

I have pretty much given up on To Do lists. I, personally, like lists and when I lived alone, I always managed to work my way through them. Living with the Urbane Lion? Forget about it! The man is totally random and flits from one task to the next, and I end up in reactive mode. Bottom line, lists work in a vaccuum. When there are other people in your life, the lists aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

@Ricardo: I think you and I are on the same page (so to speak); prioritizing makes sense and is more satisfying in the long run.
@Vered: it seems to go against some of the advice out there, but I have to find my own way.
@Kirsty: it’s always like that . . . I do a ton of stuff, but it’s often the urgent (or less dreaded) rather than what I really need to do, which makes me crazy!
@Panther: I don’t think you have to give up on your lists because you don’t live alone. It sounds like you’re enjoying this “random” way of life, and I imagine when it’s not fun or working anymore, you’ll suddenly find yourself with pencil and paper in hand . . .:-)

I like the idea of keeping it to three (or heck, two at home and two at work?) Remember, you did actually get THREE things done on your list!

A couple of times recently I’ve made a Just Done list. It’s far more pleasant, really. All those other things you did? You get to write them down (and maybe make a pretty check mark. It’s like a little prize. For laundry, I make tally marks for each visit to the basement to move start around, too. It’s really more motivating to see a list of accomplished things developing.

Missed a parentheses ending and I move “stuff” around between washer, dryer and basket in my basement, not “start.”

To do list:
Type coherently

What I’m trying to do is to not write the whole task down on my daily planner–like declutter home–but just the particular subtask–like declutter closet–and set a specific time and a time limit. That way I know that Monday at 3:00 p.m. I will spend an hour decluttering the closet.

@Jen; haha! I like your latest To Do list. I remember years ago when I was job-hunting and planning my wedding and I wanted to make a “done” list. It’s so much more encouraging, isn’t it?
@Marelisa: your method reminds me of David Allen and his “next action” approach. Breaking a big project down into small pieces is so much more realistic.

My problem tends to be that I put “projects” on my “to do” list and then I try to work on the projects instead of just pounding away at the actual to do list.

I just downloaded a mind mapping software today, though, and it helped me figure out my projects’ individual action lists so maybe now I can add a few each day to my actual to do list.

@Amy: yes, I think an item like “clean out the garage” is not very helpful, but “sort through the flower pots” is reasonable. I keep a Projects list that is separate from my daily or even weekly list.

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