“A to-do list is a road map for your day,” says Paula Rizzo, author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful, and Less Stressed. “It sets an intention so you know what you’re doing, but you can get derailed if you don’t use it correctly.”
Before you write your next to-do list, make sure you aren’t making these seven common mistakes.
1. Writing The List In The Morning
It may feel natural to create your to-do list first thing in the morning, but that’s too late. If you do that and you have an 8 a.m. meeting across town, you probably won’t be there. Instead, create your list the night before.
Writing the list at the end of the day allows you to leave work behind and transition into personal time. You go home and can stop thinking about your to-do list because you already created it and know what tomorrow’s to-do’s look like. Your mind can rest.
2. Including Too Many Tasks
If your to-do list includes so many tasks that it would take a few weeks or even months to complete, you’re setting yourself up for failure.Long lists are a problem because most people aren’t aware of how few productive hours we truly have in a day. Our mental energy is a far more limiting factor than time.
3. Including Someday Items
Aspirational tasks, like writing a book, don’t belong on a to-do list. If your to-do list says, ‘Climb Mount Everest and pick up milk,’ those are two items that should be on completely separate lists. Daily to-do lists should be focused. If you have a big project you want to complete, you can put it on your to-do list if you chunk it out into smaller, more attainable tasks.
4. Treating Each Item Equally
A good to-do list should be a priority list. Only add items that will move your career or business forward. If it’s not a priority, it should not be on the list. Non-priorities are just distractions.
5. Not Being Specific
People often write vague notes on a to-do list, but it can be difficult to take action if you have to stop and think how to proceed. If you have 10 minutes to get something done and a vague list, you’ll waste time trying to reconnect with each item on the list and remember what it means.
Take the few extra seconds, while you’re in planning mode and writing the list, to be as specific as you can be, so that when you’re taking on a task on the fly, you can just get it done. For example, instead of writing “expense report” on your list, write “enter receipts into spreadsheet.”