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

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?

It's About Time: Enjoy Yours

stumpin by legin on flickrAn IBM ad once showed an employee in his office leaning back in his chair, with his head back in his hands and his feet on his desk.

The caption said something like, “Don’t disturb our engineers, they’re working.”

Too often we equate working with physical movement and busyness and discount time spent quietly reflecting or thinking.

Our best ideas often come in times of quiet, times that may look to an outsider as wasted time. The human mind craves time off to massage all our mental rumblings so that wonderful creations can emerge.

As a matter of fact, most advice on how to be happy suggests meditation, prayer or time spent in silence.

Our inner critic keeps loud constant chatter as it weaves its way through the 65,000 thoughts we have each day.

Our intuition, on the other hand, is a kinder gentler voice that we can only hear when we get still and quiet the inner critic.

Take time off to do nothing, to lean back, to reflect. Give your great ideas a chance to float up to your conscious.

You’ll be rejuvenated and better ready to tackle what lies ahead of you.

“Realize that now, in this moment of time, you are creating. You are creating your next moment. That is what’s real. “ Sara Paddison

When to Forget About Putting All Your Ducks in a Row

tundraswans by firda on flickr

tundraswans by firda on flickr

If you find yourself many weeks into planning a project, you may well be on target toward your goal. You may well be doing the detail planning and rehearsing that will ensure your success. But while putting your ducks in a row is a popular metaphor for making preparations and sounds like the right thing to do, it may not be a good idea.

Here are three times when you should forget about putting your ducks in a row.

When you are putting off taking action on something that you’ll have many opportunities to revise and refine later.

Two decades before I bought my first computer, I researched and asked questions of everyone I knew who owned one. I closely studied features, benefits and costs.

When I made my third round to the same friend with another pile of questions, she said wearily, “Just jump in and buy one. You’re going to replace it in a few years anyway.”

I had not realized until that moment that whatever computer I chose would just be the first of many. I was treating this purchase as if was going to be a one-time event.

It seems silly now, but until that moment I was stuck.

Now I was finally able to move forward.

When you are building up a lot of fear over losing something before you even get it

I once operated a home-based tutoring program that I wanted to move to a commercial building where I would have more room and could schedule multiple activities at one time.

I found the perfect building. It was about 14 blocks from my house and I passed it on the way to drop my youngest at preschool. It was brick with its own parking lot, and was already decorated and furnished thanks to the decorator/chiropractor couple who once owned it.

But fear set in, and for good reason. I was not savvy about real estate negotiations and didn’t have big bucks for a down payment.

When I went on a walk-through I fell in love. It had an eleven-seat waiting room, a glassed-in reception area, a large office with a skylight and down the long hall were rooms on each side that would be perfect for small classrooms.

There was a kitchen, two restrooms and at the end of the hall a large room for conferences or other events.

Again I was gripped by fear, but I bought a book called How Not to Get Taken Every Time and set out to negotiate for the building.

Normally I was the one in our marriage who was surefooted, but this time I was equally as afraid as my husband. As we got closer to the possibility of actually becoming the new owners something entered my mind that quieted my fears.

We didn’t have the building, and if we were able to get it and through some unfortunate turn of events lost the building we’d be right back where we currently were. We wouldn’t have the building again.

That was an amazingly freeing realization.

We proceeded to buy the building and kept it for two years until I decided to close the tutoring program.

When you are putting in a lot of planning for something you deep down don’t want to do

When I closed my tutoring program I thought I wanted to offer educational seminars. In my usual manner I began researching, reading and attending seminars.

I made notes and drafted plans for many months.

Finally one day I caught myself sighing when I was looking over my plans for my educational seminars. That’s when it hit me that I had no enthusiasm for this project.

It had seemed like a good idea years before, but it clearly wasn’t where I was being lead at that time.

Wow! I could stop lining up those ducks toward this goal and reassess my direction.

Did you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios? If so, forget about putting your ducks in a row and instead take more action, risk failure and check in with your enthusiasm to be sure you’re headed for a passionate interest.

Don't Apologize for How You Choose to Spend Your Time

itsabouttime_clip_image002One of the best parts about growing older is the ability to speak your mind without feeling guilty. I have learned to take charge of my time without making apologies.

One of the greatest time wasters is doing something you don’t want to do because
you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

While in my early 20’s and still single, friends frequently convinced me to ride along with them while they went miles away to pick up or drop off this or that. It was sometimes even fun, but when I returned home, my chores and tasks were still undone.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to make time for having fun with family and friends. But, it should be fit into YOUR life plans.

When someone interrupts your well-planned day, you don’t owe them an excuse; you owe them the truth. Don’t hesitate to share the truth, “That won’t work for me, I have different priorities today.”

This time like all times is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is one of the tips I share in It’s About Time.  A key part of happiness is learning to manage your time. Get the whole set of tips here.

Give Me Some Seamless Days


My friend, Linda, says that I invented the term, “seamless days.” I’m not sure about that but I do know that somewhere along the way I discovered that I needed them in order to get big projects done.

A lot of people praise multitasking, while some time management practitioners say it’s not humanly possible to do more than one thing at a time. Regardless of who is right, I seem to get major projects done best when I can work continuously without outside interruptions and the tyranny of the clock. I call these my seamless days, and they are the times when I believe I can accomplish my best writing, thinking, and planning.

Seamless days are a series of two to three days when I don’t have appointments and can stay home working on important projects. I don’t work nonstop, of course. My seamless days are punctuated with snack breaks, sometimes even a short walk out of doors. What is most distinctive about them, however, is that I don’t have outside appointments, guests or disruptive thoughts. I screen my phone calls and don’t turn on the TV. Without the distraction of the media, telephone and other time thieves, I can get absorbed so deeply in a project that hours literally go by before I realize. The result is that I get big chunks of work done.

Occasionally during a break from work during my seamless days I’ll daydream. I’ll just lean back in my easy chair and begin to think about whatever. Scenes from my childhood or episodes of raising my children flash by. Sometimes I recall how a specific moment felt, like waking up to the sunrise over Puget Sound in Bainbridge Island where the large bedroom windows gave me a full view.

Other times I imagine what it’ll be like to hold my next grandchild, whenever one of my children decides to take this step. Once in a while I’ll get spot a bird perched on a tree branch outside my window or a lizard doing pushups on my patio.

When I was still teaching full time, running a side business and managing my family I would long for seamless days. When the need became urgent, I would pull out my month at a glance calendar, check for three consecutive days without appointments and make a plan to stay put for that time frame. Sometimes I would have to reschedule an appointment to make this happen, so I would.

I urge you to occasionally make space in your life for some seamless days. You can use them for major projects or to get away from your normal activities.

You’ll return to your routine rejuvenated, able to stave off stress and more likely to keep a positive mood.

Open your calendar now and schedule your seamless days. You’ll be glad you did.