The Happy To Do List

Posted on November 11, 2017 by mmaloney

Is that actually a thing?

When you think of your to-do list it likely makes you anything but happy!

I was asked to share some tips, tricks and best practices for planning, organizing, prioritizing and executing a to-do list!

I am hoping that by the end… if the list doesn’t make you happy… accomplishing even a few more things will!

When I started out to write this, I initially thought of some of the strategies that I use to organize my to-do list.  This led me to remember some of the books/ videos I have read/watched over the years.  I consider these classics when it comes to the world of efficiency.  In order to provide you with the best insight I can on the topic I will lean on my own personal best practices as well as those of others as well.

I would recommend that you identify what the intention of your to do list is first.  Is this a list for the day?  Is this a list for the week?  I tend to take the method of sitting down one time per week and making a “rough list” first.  This list is the foundation of my week, even though things may be added to it as the week continues.

My first Step- the “Rough List”

What is a “rough list”… it’s like my rough copy.  I make a list every Saturday or Sunday of absolutely everything that is currently on my to-do list.  I like to sit down- sort through every email, look at my task list, go through all my notes from the week where I may have jotted down other things, and get everything I have to do all in one place.  It is usually messy, all over the place and completely unorganized to start.  I need a centralized place to see everything I have to do, from there I can start to prioritize it.

My Step 2- Do the Most Important Things First

I am a huge fan of the demonstration most people have heard or seen where you fill up a jar that contains large rocks, pebbles and sand by size.  The video is below if you have never seen it.  This is a concept that I use when taking the “rough list” and turning it into my official to do list.

In the past I fell victim to the fact that I liked to actually cross things off my to-do list.  I would go for quantity over quality.  This would lead to a feeling of success in the number of things I got crossed off, however it would leave me to feel unsuccessful in getting the bigger tasks done.

Since changing my way of thinking to the strategy of putting the “big rocks first”, I actually accomplish more things, but most importantly also accomplish the 80/20 rule (The Law of the Vital few- Vilfredo Pareto).  That is the rule that you will accomplish 80% of your results from 20% of your time.

I can’t tell you what to choose.  I can’t decide for you how to prioritize.  I don’t know what your priorities are, but you do.

One strategy I use is to separate my list into sections:  Home, Work, Self and Family.  I find this helps me to decide when in the week I am going to execute things (I spend more home time on the weekend than any other time in the week as an example).  One thing that I try and do is to set myself up in a way that I put my total attention into whatever area I am focusing on.  This helps me with my success in execution.

My Step 3- Be Happy to be doing what you are doing!

Years ago I read a book called “Juggling Elephants” by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig.  Simply put this book teaches you to give 100% of your full attention to whatever you are currently working on.  Be Present.  Be in the moment.  Live with intention.  Whatever you want to call it… focus on what you are doing.  Fulfillment and execution of your list become easier when you can focus on one task with your full attention.  Have you ever been trying to have some time with your kids and work keeps calling?  You feel guilty.  Guilty that you aren’t with your kids AND guilty that you are not doing whatever work needs.  Double guilt!  If you set boundaries around your time then this helps to eliminate this.

I also find that for myself if I have not made my “rough list” and organized it, I have a hard time completing whatever I am trying to do because my brain keeps running through things that I may forget.  That is why my list is always step 1!  It allows me to work with greater intention and focus and therefore accomplish more things!

My Step 4- Schedule the list

As my career and family started to get busier I found myself working more and more and accomplishing less and less.  I am sure many can relate.  This led me to needing to come up with a different strategy on how to better execute the to-do list.  I knew what I wanted to do… and previously I had actually even decided what day I would complete it on.  However I started to have more and more days where it just wasn’t getting completed.  This led to a new strategy that I find to be very effective.  Instead of just making the list and picking a day… I actually now pick a day and time.

Why is this successful?

It forces you to evaluate how long something is going to take.  It is not a perfect strategy, however it is better than nothing!  What if you know that a task is going to take approximately 60 minutes, but you only have 30?  You then know off the top, you need a new plan.  Or you are planning to fail.

Sometimes on the weekend this means laying out the hours in the day and scheduling it out.  I know, it does not sound very fun or spontaneous, however I am about managing my stress.  I would rather eliminate the feeling of guilt from my life.  I would rather know that I only have 30 minutes of downtime at the start of the day, then waste 4 hours watching TV on my own, only to realize that I now don’t have time to chill with my family because of the other things on my list.  I would NOT prioritize the TV time in my plan, I would prioritize my family.

These are 4 of the steps I take to accomplish more, live more stress free, and control my happiness!

Hoping you a happy to-do list this week!

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