Making a workable to-do list


I have had a couple of conversations recently about how best to manage a to-do list. Or what I think is probably more adequately described as our many many to-do actions. So I’m going to go into some detail about how to approach this conundrum, which I think affects all of us.

I have already written this blog post on this theme, take a look and see if it covers what you’re after, if not, read on!

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for a to-do list, so I am sorry if that is why you are here but you will be disappointed (that would also be a really short blog post!) What you will get in this blog is a way to decide what to-do list will work for you.

1. Write a productive to-do list

Read this blog first – it is very short and explains about how breaking down your to-do list items will make them more manageable and more likely to be actioned:

2. What are you hoping to achieve?

You need to be realistic about what you are expecting from a to-do list, for example:

a) Not forgetting anything. b) Managing to-do items in line with deadlines. c) Giving headspace to not worry about things when you wake up at 5am. d) Being able to share / delegate to team members / family members. e) The list matching the equipment you use and your lifestyle.

Be clear about this because it will make a difference to how and what you use to manage your tasks.

3. One size does not fit all

There is no one size fits all. For the to-do list scenario I mean that it doesn’t mean having one tool / place to manage all of your to-do items.

To illustrate, the same to do list style does not work for all my client work and for all of my business work so I have a myriad of options, both online and on paper.

a) Trello – for managing my active and lead client list – see blog here for more detail. I have also used this in the past when collaborating on to-do’s with a client.

b) Word – for a client whose diary and client projects I manage. There are 4 columns

To do Waiting from client Sarah to action Notes

The reason I have this on word is because I can always have it open when I am working, things move really quickly for this client so I can add and delete frequently throughout the day as I work, and it makes it easy for me to give an update of outstanding tasks when they request it.

This works for me AND for the client without having to double work when we do have a catch up call.

c) Paper – for a couple of clients whose work I do less frequently and for taking call / meeting notes.

d) Week-to-view paper diary – this is how I manage everything day-to-day and ensure that I do not miss any deadlines. It cost me £1.99 from Card Factory and is probably the best thing (next to my laptop) that I have spent money on for my business. This works particularly well if you are short on time or have to work around other commitments (maybe a day job, family commitments etc.)

I add the items that are ESSENTIAL that I do on that day and it is laid out for the entire week so I know that it is a realistic expectation on my time and is not overwhelming, like I think that a massive to-do list of all of your items can be.

e) Microsoft To-Do – I have the app on my phone so when I am out and about or in bed and struggling to switch off, I make a note of it onto the app. This means that I can offload it from my brain and pick it up on my computer when I next start working again. I put it in the appropriate place either on a client to do list, add it to my diary, action it straight away. Whatever is most appropriate for that piece of information.

It acts as a note taker but instead of having things written on post its, scraps of paper and note apps, it is in one place and integrated across my laptop and phone. This is essential for how I work because I do everything from my laptop.

f) Email – I have an entire blog post on this if you’d like to check out how I manage items in the many inboxes I manage. But crucially, in my own and in client inboxes I only have emails as unread that I am yet to action. I then get reminded every time I am on my email, and it is most likely that these things are actioned either straight away or put in my week-to-view diary.

g) Wunderlist – I only use this for personal tasks and for delegating with family members. My husband holds all of his to-dos on Wunderlist so it means that I can add items to that list. Either he can then action them, or it acts as a reminder for us to discuss them at a later time.

4. Ignore general recommendations and advice

Just because someone else is using *enter name of software here* does not mean that it is right for you and your business. I often get asked my opinion of certain online and offline tools and I always respond with the questions:

‘What are you looking to use it for?’ ‘What problem are you trying to solve?’

So make sure to ask yourself those two questions when you are considering a solution for your to-do list actions. Especially prudent when considering that many online solutions have a price tag.

Other advice given in response to-do lists is:

‘Only put one/three/five things on your to-do list a day.’

This is unhelpful because it completely depends on your business model. If I only put three things on my to-do list I would be done in 45 minutes because some clients tasks are extremely short. In the same way I could put three KeyboardSmash items on a to do list like:

1 – reconcile January 2019 2 – re-write website terms and conditions 3 – schedule social media until end of March

And not get them done because they are completely unrealistic. I am likely going to need to go away and research something, drop into some client work, wait for a response from someone/something.

I’ve a short blog on writing a productive to-do list here. Take a look as it will make you think about ensuring that the items on your list are manageable and achievable.

5. Tools with a price tag

Don’t be afraid of a tool with a price tag. If you consider the amount of time and headspace you use up over a month, something that costs you £20 / £30 per month would pay for itself very quickly. Most importantly is to consider whether it does exactly what you need it to do.

Don’t think just because there is a price tag that it is suitable for you! There are many free tools out there that will do exactly what you want of them. There will also be a long list of selling points…but if you are not going to use them, there is no point. Be clear on exactly what you need.

6. If it only takes 2 minutes, just do it!

Nothing is more overwhelming than a massive to-do list, which can make it incredibly hard to work even if many of those things are quick 2-minute wins so…if it only takes 2 minutes, JUST DO IT! I have also written a blog on the principal behind this if you’d find it helpful you can find it here.

If you’d like to discuss ways of implementing simple systems to make managing your business administration and obligations easier, please get in touch. I’ll always have a free chat, and advice comes free as well! Look forward to hearing from you.


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