The Power of a Simple To-Do List

Let's get s%*+ done.

One question that I receive all the time is how I keep on top of tasks. Juggling multiple projects can be extremely overwhelming, and that moment in which you realize deadlines are starting to snowball is one of the worst feelings.

The other day, my friend was experiencing that sinking feeling in which deadlines were encroaching and asked me about some project management tools. And geez, there are a lot:, Trello, ToDoIst, Asana, iCal, paper planners, Evernote, Wunderlist, yada, yada.

I hate to break it to you. None of those tools will help you magically become a more organized person. Because they’re just that … tools. And some of them are actually pretty complicated. So, naturally, when I tried to make myself organized by using them, I was wasting a ton of time organizing spreadsheets, learning the UX and making my lists look pretty. So, I had to simplify.

It sounds too easy, but bullet point to-do lists have changed my life. Nothing more than pen to paper. To-do lists are one of the few things I actually write out vs. type on my computer, partly because it feels so satisfying to cross out things I've finished.

These tips may seem super simple, but I truly believe that it will be nearly impossible to do great things until you first refine the simple things.

As someone who balances a lot of deadlines every week, here are the very basic things you need to know regarding to-do lists that I swear by:

  1. Write out the big things you need to do for the week on Sunday night. Do not wait until Monday morning. It will be nearly impossible to think about your week holistically once the emails and Slacks start piling up. 

  2. Write out your to-do list for the next day the afternoon or evening before. Again, waiting will lead to compromise. Tasks will be forgotten or neglected as you dive into your day. 

  3. Include deadlines on your to-do lists. Once you have days or times added, you’ll be able to easily prioritize tasks.

  4. Add approximate times for each task and then give yourself some buffer. Be realistic. Will a project take you two hours? Add 2.5 hours next to the task. When you don’t give yourself buffer time, you can’t give yourself grace when last-minute projects or fires inevitably pop up. And then, you guessed it, the snowball happens. 

  5. If a project comes up, add it to your to-do list right away. Keep your list and a pen right by where you’re working all day. When a new task comes up, write it down immediately. Don’t assume you’ll remember to add it to your calendar or to-do list later. You won’t.

Once you have the basics of to-do lists down, that’s when you can implement some of the nifty tools that make you look like a True Professional™. For me, that means a regular ol’ notebook, Trello for longer-term projects and my iCal that syncs to my computer, phone and Apple Watch.

These tips may seem super simple, but I truly believe that it will be nearly impossible to do great things until you first refine the simple things.

Have a great rest of your week, and remember to give yourself grace.


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