Design Your Days: How to Write Your To-Do List
A to-do list is a running tab of tasks. If designed correctly, it can be tremendously beneficial to keep you focused and productive. It can also be detrimental, however. If you don’t think about your goals or plan out your responsibilities, your schedule will end up being a pile of tasks that leave you exhausted and unaccomplished.
In a previous post, we discussed the value of setting clear and attainable goals and writing them down. In this article, we will talk about how to design your days based on your goals to set yourself up for success.
How to Write Your To-do List:
- Deep Planning
This is the first and most overlooked step of writing a to-do list. When people jot down every task that falls into their laps without a second thought, their days become a succession of tasks and chores that, even when completed, leave them feeling busy but unsuccessful. This should not be the case if you plan well. Schedule time for planning and evaluating your goals annually, quarterly, and daily.
What does deep planning look like? That depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If your main goal is to focus on your relationship with your partner, for instance, you can have a “lunch meeting” to assess your relationship (or family) goals. Similarly, you can take a day off to plan for your new business or your personal goals. Go to a place where you can think openly and plan without distraction.
Of course, if you are just planning for the following day, a few minutes of quiet might be sufficient. The idea is that you give yourself time and space to think and plan honestly, creatively, and without distraction. Ask yourself tough questions; be honest with yourself about your priorities and objectives and be realistic about your time limits, and other obstacles. Imagine what you want to have accomplished by the end of the year/quarter/day before breaking it down into to-dos, and plan the rest of your responsibilities around those priorities.
- Choose Your Design Tool
Journals, planners, and notebooks, oh my! To me, this is the most fun step because it involves shopping for elegant paper-things. Although, even I have to admit that the variety of planners and agendas is such that it can be overwhelming. Let’s take a look at some of the best design tools and frameworks to keep you on track.
- Best Self Co. The Self Planner: This undated six-month planner is designed to help you plan your goals and manage your time around your priorities. It includes a benchmark quiz, quarterly reflections, a bucket list, a monthly habit tracker, and six project-planning sheets. What I like about this planner is that it helps you “deep plan,” align your goals with your daily tasks, and hold you accountable.
- The Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt: This planner is organized in 90-day chunks, just in time for your quarterly deep planning (see above)! This means you’ll need to buy four to get you through the year, but you can start at any time. This planner wants to increase the amount of time you spend on tasks that are connected to your goals and follows Michael Hyatt’s 3×3 goal-setting framework to delineate three quarterly, weekly, and daily goals. The planner includes pages to plan annual goals, your ideal week, you daily rituals, daily pages that focus on your three goals, and weekly and quarterly review pages to assess how you are doing.
- The Bullet Journal: Have you seen those dotted notebooks popping up at every stationary store? Those are bullet journals. They are dotted notebooks and not much else. The value is in the method, dubbed “the KonMari method for your racing thoughts,” and created by best-selling author Ryder Caroll. The method asks the user to create an index, a future log, a monthly log, and a daily log and divide notes into different categories, each with its own symbol: a dot for tasks, a circle for events, a dash for notes, and an asterisk or a star to denote importance. The best part about this journal is that it encourages creativity (and art skills!) as it is the most customizable of the popular planners. And it is so popular it has started a social media revolution, just follow the hashtag #bulletjournal to see what I mean.
- Any notebook: As I said before, the most important part of designing your days is thinking, visualizing, and planning. Writing your to-dos will keep you accountable and focused, but if you can’t find a journal or planner that suits your style, get any notebook you like and create your own system.
- Schedule for Productivity and Focus
You will hear me say this over and over again, but here it is once more: break down projects into small, achievable tasks. Also, prioritize ruthlessly and learn to delegate or eliminate tasks altogether. Michael Hyatt (whose Full Focused Planner I covered above) suggests limiting your to-do lists to focus on three main tasks every day, that then feed into three weekly objectives, that ultimately complete three quarterly goals. Remember to give priority to the tasks related to your goals; every other responsibility should be scheduled around them.
Track the habits that are important to you. For instance, if this year one of your goals is to sleep more, write down “go to bed at 10:30 p.m.” as a to-do on your planner. With this in mind, be honest and realistic about your time and energy limits and learn to reevaluate your priorities at certain time intervals (I suggest quarterly and annually).
A word on focus: If you want to be productive, you are going to have to focus on the task at hand. Get rid of distractions (yes, your phone and email) until the task is done and done well. Focus on your day and schedule a time to “catch up” on distractions (social media, email, texts, etc) instead of having them constantly interrupting you throughout the day.
- Get in the Habit!
Take your to-do list everywhere or keep it somewhere where you can see it, preferably next to your desk while you work or by your bedside table. The best way to get in the habit of using your planner is to have it available. You don’t want to be writing yourself a reminder on a sticky-note or the back of your hand to then rewrite it on your planner. You’ll be viewing and reviewing your planner throughout the day, so have it with you. It will be important to see your tasks when another one comes along because right there, on paper, you will have your goals and dreams staring right back at you and judging you if you decide to neglect them.
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