Not All To-Dos Are Created Equal

I few weeks ago, I helped a client clear the clutter out of her beautiful home office. Having all of her books, and resources in plain site gave her comfort, but it also created distractions.

Office before we started

Office before we started

We started by inventorying all of the spaces in her office. After a short time, we dug in by clearing out her desk drawers, reducing the number of items on top of her bookshelf and on the shelves of her armoire. Then we rearranged and moved some of her seldom-used resources to her walk-up attic.

It didn’t take long before she realized that she felt free – free of the clutter, free of the distractions. There was so much more work space at her desk, and she had discovered a new way of separating her active project resources from her inactive or seasonal projects.

Office after we decluttered

Office after we decluttered

But, when many of the major distractions were out of the way, we uncovered a buried pile of notes and lists of to-dos that urgently needed attention. Sorting through these newly exposed action items became her next challenge. And it got me to thinking – sorting and prioritizing to-dos isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone – maybe sharing some ideas about categorizing to-dos could be helpful.

I believe my client got stuck by not clearly breaking down her pile of notes and sorting them into to different types of to-dos – such as simply sorting between daily vs. short term vs. long term. Let’s look at how to define these:

Daily to-dos:

Every morning as I start my day, I review my to-do list for that day. The action items I include on my daily list are the actions I think I can accomplish that day. Sometimes I have a list of 6-10 small actions, other times I may only have time for 2-3.

The key here is “action.” I use a spiral bound weekly desk calendar to keep track. If it’s listed on a particular day of the week, that is a signal to me that I need to take action that day. If I can’t complete a task one day, I can easily move it to the next day. And when I think of a to-do that I know I cannot complete on a particular day, I list it on a day later in the week when I do have time.

Short-term to-dos:

I define a short-term to-dos or projects as something that will take longer than a week, but less than three months to complete. I list these on a big post-it note on my office wall. Associated with each project is a list of the related tasks that need to be completed. I write each task on a smaller square post-it note, which makes it easy to move around on the wall if I need to rearrange priorities (what did we do before post-its were invented??).

Postit rainbow

I love post-it notes!!!

Each week, a couple of these tasks are added to my daily to-dos. Sometimes, I just take the small post-it note off the wall, and stick it on my daily to-do list. This way I systematically chip away at completing the bigger project.

Here’s a fun (for me) example of a recent short-term project. I call it my “Spring Clutter Purge.” The deadline for this project is the Yard Sale being held at my church this month. On my big post-it note, I listed all of the spaces in my house that I needed to purge – and for the past few weeks, each day I spent an hour or so sorting and purging each area. I ended up making three trips to the church to leave my donations.

Long-term to-dos:

I often look at long-term projects seasonally and strategically. These projects often include, and are dependent upon, input from others. An example I would use here is my website. If you have ever had a website of your own, you know that it is never done.

I keep a list on another big post-it note on my wall of all the things I would like to add or change to improve my website, and what it’s going to take to get there. I tackle this project when I have a chunk of time available – and typically it’s not every week. I may go 2-3 weeks before I return to that list and select the next task to address, which keeps the project moving along.

There is so much more I could say about setting up systems to help manage your project to-do lists and action items (A series on this topic may be in order!). The most important thing about keeping lists of any kind is to find a system of capturing and managing those lists that works for you.

Here I have described what works for me, but getting thoughts and action items out of your head and onto an organized or categorized list is a great place to start.

How do you keep track of your daily, short-term, and long-term project lists? I’d love to hear from you.

Ta-Da Tip of the Month

Not every type of project should or can be done at once – but how do you prioritize? Here are a few things to consider when designing a system that works for you.

  1. Determine a timeline – every project or goal on your lists should have a target timeline so that you can decide how many of the associated tasks need to be addressed each week. Napoleon Hill sums this idea up nicely: “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
  2. Use color coding – As I have revealed in the past, color coding is a big help to me. I think I have every color post-it note ever made in my office, and I assign color to short- and long-term tasks — bright colors designate short-term tasks, pastels are for long term.
  3. Keep a calendar – Probably the most important part of keeping on track with any project or goal is to schedule time on your calendar to accomplish associated tasks. Many online calendars offer the option to set up reminders, which I find helps me tremendously. But again, finding a calendar system that works for you is imperative.
  4. Be flexible – We all lead busy lives, and it’s inevitable that unexpected things come up. Keep your eventual goals in focus and if something comes up that delays what you planned to accomplish one week, look ahead and block out additional time the following week. Goals are often a moving target. Be kind to yourself.

As you work through projects and try out new systems for tracking your goals, you’ll feel more productive and will function with a sense of clarity. Ta-Da!


2 comments to Not All To-Dos Are Created Equal

  • LJ Anderson

    Thank you so much for these valuable tips, Diana! I bought the big post-it note and have several of my projects organized as you suggested. Having them visually displayed is so helpful, and I’m making more progress already. Wonderful ideas!

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