Your to-do list needs an overhaul

I love lists. Specifically, I love crossing things off lists. Sometimes I'll sneak in something I've already done so I can have the pleasure of crossing it off.

But my to-do list can also send me into a panic.

When I'm in the middle of a project with lots of little things to keep track of, and just as I'm about to get ahead I remember five more things I need to do before I can leave my desk. Ugh, the sinking feeling of having a surprise extra hour to go until I'm done.

If you are a to-do list person too, I bet you know that feeling. 

The imaginary teacher-parent-bystander with a furrowed brow and arms crossed looking over your shoulder. Admit it, you can hear her voice in your ear questioning how much you've really accomplished. If you can cross off one more thing, you get permission to be finished.

If you haven't done enough, you end your work day (and maybe your whole day) with a heavy sigh.

I hate that feeling.

I've tried a lot of tactics to avoid it, and I'm going to share the one that's working right now.

To-do list meet TODAY List.

Simple solutions usually work best, and that's what this is.

Keep your to-do list, in fact add even more to it. It's now your everything list.

Track the things you want to do, and the ideas that you'll have time for at some point just not right now. You could save this list on Evernote to add to it from wherever you are.

To battle list fatigue, I still keep this list to one page so I can see everything at once. I may have made the font smaller to do this.

Next up, your TODAY List.

Save a document on your desktop called TODAY. Here's mine:




First thing in the morning, the minute you start your computer but before you get sucked into social media, open up this document.

Then open your everything list. Mine is the second page of the TODAY document so I can refer to it easily.

Choose a couple items from your everything list. At most five. Copy and paste those onto your TODAY List.

Now accomplishing enough so you can be done for the day means finishing these or moving them into the next day. Conveniently, I have the next day at the bottom of the page so I can see what's on deck.

Why this works, for me.

First, it's how I begin my day.

Before I get sidetracked for an hour reading emails, I get clear on how I want the day to look. It doesn't always turn out that way, but it's amazing what starting with a little focus can give you once the emails roll in. (I also turn off email notification, by that way. It too was adding to my overwhelm, and I already obsessively refresh my inbox anyway.)

Second, I'm more judicious about what I commit to.

My old to-do list, my new everything list, is as long as it has always been. The only difference is that I don't sweat it as much. When that was the list I faced, no wonder I left my desk every evening with a heavy sigh. I was never going to cross everything off, yet that list assumed that I would. I had set myself up to fail.

The TODAY List always starts empty. If I don't finish something, it goes back to the everything list.

That means every morning I choose what I take from the everything list and commit to doing today. For ten minutes I consider my schedule, how much time I'll have to complete tasks, and when that might happen.

My TODAY List remains open to remind me what's important, to me.

I rarely feel that furrowed-brow, crossed-arm judgment of my accomplishments anymore. I finish the same amount of work, and now I can actually see my progress. The list gets completely crossed off almost every day. [Now, four years after starting this habit, I barely look at the everything list and know by heart what is a reasonable amount to do in a day. Still checking everything off!]

My list love affair continues.

If you've solved the to-do list conundrum, I'd love to know...hit reply with your favorite ways to plan and check things off your to-do list.