The Art of the To-Do List—Hint: It's Not Having One
Hello, my name is Genevieve, and I am an addict. Addicted to the to-do list that is. Ever since I can remember, I have made endless lists of things I think I should do, and ever since I can remember, I have never been able to complete a list—mostly because I keep adding to the list, and my must-do tasks blend into could-do or should-do tasks I’ll never actually have time for. Hence the stacks and stacks of scribbled-in Moleskins I have in my bookshelf. Perhaps I hold onto those tomes in hope that I will one day be able to cross off everything on my lists.
This year, in an effort to streamline my life and be more productive than ever, I made the resolution to stop procrastinating and finally get through all of my to-do list items each day. I sought advice from some of the most efficient people in my life and came up with a plan: do away with my to-do lists altogether. This may sound utterly and completely ludicrous—especially for someone seeking to accomplish more and not less this year—but hear me out.
The best advice I received was to make a schedule—not a list—every night before bed. Step one is prioritization. Use a scratch paper or notebook and draw an X axis and Y axis. Your X axis is your urgency meter, the least urgent being on the left and the most urgent being on the right like a typical graph. Your Y axis measures importance, with the top of the axis being the most important and the bottom of the axis being the least. In the top right quadrant of your graph, list what you think is most important and urgent in your life. For example, my most urgent and important categories in life are my health, my career, and my relationships. So on any given night, I will place a workout, email follow-up, image sourcing, and an hour with my boyfriend in the upper right quadrant of my graph. The upper left quadrant is reserved for items of equal importance but less urgency. For me, this may be work on a project that is due in a week, seeing family, and home chores. Your bottom two quadrants are reserved for tasks of low importance.
It’s helpful to visualize your general to-do tasks in graph form before scheduling each item into your calendar. This enables you to carefully prioritize your tasks and allocate your precious time in a well-informed manner. Once you’ve laid out the gist of what would normally be the to-do list in your head on graph form, start scheduling. I use Google Calendar. Everything I schedule before noon is of high importance and high urgency. For example, I’ll schedule my wake-up and workout at 6:30 a.m., my inbox follow-up from 8–9 a.m., and image sourcing from 9–11:30 a.m.. By tackling my most urgent and important tasks before noon, I keep my anxiety at bay and never end the day with a sense of regret or dread for the following morning. My afternoons are reserved for important but less urgent action items like working on a project or cleaning up my home. And evenings are reserved for important (and hopefully enjoyable) activities like catching up with friends or my boyfriend.
I challenge you to say farewell to your to-do list this week and practice the graph and schedule method. Shop one of our favorite planners below to make your scheduling process as enjoyable as possible.
How do you motivate yourself to power through your to-do list? Share with us in the comments.