How to Organise your To Do List

We all start a new year with the best intentions to be more organised and do great work and help more people, don't we? But then you get back in to the office and everything has piled up over the time you've had off. It's overflowing your email inbox and all over your desk (not to mention all the ideas for new projects floating around in your head!) It can be very overwhelming and you feel like you're falling behind before you even begin. 

So today I'm share my steps for starting the new working year on the right foot!

Get your To-Do List sorted with less clutter and more productivity

Step #1 - get it all in one place

Do a "brain dump" - if you haven't heard of a brain dump, just take a blank notepad, page and just sit for 5 minutes and write down every single thing you can think of that needs to be done, everything that's floating around in your head that you "need to remember". That's it! Just this one activity alone, can be a huge stress relief!
Then collect all your bills, notes, brochures for things you want to buy, referrals for doctors, business cards of people you want to contact, emails to follow up on etc. Get them in one place and weed out the junk mail, rubbish and already done things while you're at it.

Step #2 - Sort and "triage"

"If everything is a priority, then nothing is!"

"If everything is a priority, then nothing is!"

Check your tasks against your overall goals and values. It is critical to be clear on your goals, so you can check all of your projects and tasks against this and be able to prioritise. Ask yourself "Will doing this, get me closer to my goal? Does it sit right with my values?" The bigger impact a task will have towards your goal, the higher prioritiy it will become.
(If you want to read further about goal setting, check out my recent blog post - how to get unstuck...)

Check if there are any tasks you can trash or delegate. Once you've seen all your tasks in one place in step #1, this can sometimes give you perspective to more easily make those decisions.

Step #3 - Categorise the remaining tasks in a "Master To-do List"

What is a master to-do list? It is one home for everything you need to take action on, so you can safely park them there and know they won't be forgotten or overlooked. You can keep your master list in a notebook or planner, a set of manilla folders, or an app like Asana, Evernote or Outlook.

Break your master list into categories so you can batch similar tasks and also find them when you need them rather than rifling through a single list trying to pinpoint what is what.

How to categorise? However makes sense to you and your industry and/or work style.
Here are some examples to inspire you:

  • Time based - DO NEXT, Due February, Someday/bucket list.
  • Project based - Client follow-up, Client XYZ Project, Website Refresh
  • Task type based - Bills to pay, Discuss with X, Calls to make, Reading, To File.

Step #4 - Pick out your next most important tasks

Now you need a DAILY to-do list that you actually work from each day to stay focused and not overwhelmed.  Choose no more than 3 tasks per day for the next few days. Then next time you get a chunk of time, you know exactly what to do, rather than trawling through your master to-do list (or scraps of paper in your in-tray).

Step #5 - Do and Review

It feels so great to cross things off your to-do list! Reward yourself when you can and make sure you review your plans to ensure that you're still on the right track.

The key to all this is to break down your goals into projects and your projects into bite size tasks. Sit down at least once a week, look at your master list and decide which tasks to prioritise next. 

Need help setting up a master to-do list and daily to-do list?

Not sure what tools to use? Ask me about a Productivity Quickstart session. (Contact options here)

 Alot of the principles that these steps are based on came from my reading and training over the years. Primarily David Allen's "Getting Things Done" and Barbara Hemphill's Productive Environment Institute. Oh and alot of my own trial and error!