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It's About Time: What Can To-Do Lists Do for You?

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todo2-mediumWe have long been encouraged to use to-do lists in order to help us organize our lives, be accountable and more productive. Some people swear by them, some swear at them.

But to-do lists are more than just a simple listing of plans. To-do lists are used by successful people to manage their time, to ensure that important tasks are done and to help them reach their goals.

Modern to-do lists have taken many forms.

There are lists of things to do before you die, places to go before you die. There are guides to making to-do lists and computer tools such as Tadalist to allow you to make your list online.

I’m one of those who swears by to-do lists. I tend to put more on a list that any human can accomplish in a day, however. One of my frequent errors is putting long-term or a big task on a daily to-do list. For example, one day my to-do list read

1. Email Ryan, K, and Yvonne
2. Send class count to JDW
3. Check FC email for any email from online
4. Write more powerful stories
5. Check on my new domains at GoDaddy to see if they’re live
6. Cancel hosting account with former host
7. Order gifts for grandkids from online catalogs
8. Write blog posts for GBBW and CYLH
9. Finish prepping tax papers
10. Plan Toastmaster talk for next week
11. Wash and hang fine washables
12. Start box for giveaway clothes and other items
13. Change linen in MB
14. Read and respond to important email

My list is not prioritized nor grouped by categories. A quick scan down my list and you’ll notice that there’s one item that is not likely to be finished in one day.

Task#4 is an admirable task, but one that I’ll be polishing and refining for longer than just a day. Maybe it should be on a reminder list. Or maybe it should be a long-term goal with small steps that will get it accomplished. For sure it seems out of place on a daily to-do list.

For tasks that stay on my to-do list for an extended period of time, never getting accomplished, I take them off. They’ll resurface in my mind and life if they need to get done. I’m always torn about how much detail to put on my list.

Should I list stopping to make lunch, putting clothes in the washing machine? Should I prioritize my list, give myself deadlines? Regardless of how the list is organized, the best part is crossing things off as you finish them. It’s amazing how good I feel as I cross or check off each item.

How about you? Do you use to-do lists? Do they keep you on track or distract you? Do you overestimate how much you can do in a day? Do you schedule fun and happiness in your list?


  1. thanks for the reminder, heading over to tadalist now

  2. I, too, write endless lists. Some are long and general, some long-term goals and some are made for a specific project. Yet, my lists can be overwhelming and decrease my productivity.

    There is a story (true, I believe) about a business owner who called in a top consultant to take a look around and give him ideas on how he and his employees could become more productive. The consultant spent several days watching people work and talking with them about their job. Finally, he sat down with the owner to give him his recommendations. After a few minutes of talking about the company in general, the consultant said,

    “I just have one suggestion to improve your productivity.”

    The business owner nodded.

    “My recommendation is that everyone in your business make a To Do list for the next day before they go home.”

    “Is that it?” the owner asked. Most of his staff already did that and obviously it wasn’t making much of a difference in productivity.

    “There is one more thing,” the consultant said. “When you make your lists each night, you must number the three things that are the most important to finish that day, with number one being the most critical, two the second, etc.”

    The owner sat there a moment, disappointed that the consultant’s advice wasn’t more, but what could he do about it? He told the consultant he would get everyone started that night, pulled out his checkbook and said, “How much do I owe you?”

    “I’ll tell you what,” the consultant said, “don’t pay me today. Spend the next month implementing my advice and then send me a check for whatever you think it’s worth.”

    A month went by and one day the check arrived in the mail. When the consultant opened it, he saw that it was signed, but there was no dollar amount filled in. There was a short, handwritten note included that read,

    “Make the check out for whatever you want!”

    I’ve used the numbering step in my list making for years and it makes a big a huge difference.

    • Wow! What a wonderful testimony to the benefit of making lists.

      You’re right that lists can be so long as to become overwhelming. But using the suggestion given by the consultant–to priortize the list and do those top 3–ensures an increase in productivity every time.

      Thanks so much for stopping by to participate in the conversation and sharing that poignant story.


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