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!

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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:
Proofread
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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