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How To Upgrade Your To-Do List: A Step-By-Step Guide

If you’re reading this, I’m going to take a wild guess that you love to-do lists. 

You love how organized you feel when you write them. You love the satisfying feeling of checking things off. You probably even add things you’ve already done just to cross them off (that’s not just me, right?!).

Or… maybe, I’m way off. Maybe you want to love them, but you’re frustrated because they’re too long, too overwhelming, and too never-ending.

Wherever you’re at, trust me when I say that I get it

To-do lists are great and have so much potential for benefiting our life and getting our sh*t together…if we use them properly. The problem is, we tend to just create a list, have the best of intentions to do all the things, and then expect those things to happen. As I’m sure you’ve realized, it’s not that simple. It takes a little more effort on our part.

But today’s your lucky day because I just so happen to have figured out exactly what to do in order to upgrade your to-do list and take it to the next level! I’m about to walk you through the process of upgrading your to-do list from start to finish, so you can get productive and feel good about what you actually accomplish every day!

Ready to create a to-do list that actually works? Let’s do it!

Step 1: Go above and beyond a list

The best to-do lists don’t start as lists – they start as braindumps.

What’s a braindump? It’s exactly what it sounds like – get out a piece of paper, and dump anything and everything that’s taking up space in your brain right now. No task is too big or too small. Quick errand? Jot it down. A whole new project idea? Yup, that too. 

Feel free to write everything down in a list format while you braindump, or do it mind map-style, whatever flows easiest! The format honestly doesn’t really matter at this point. What does matter is that you approach this step as a full braindump, not just as writing your to-do list.

This mental reframing will help you not only think of new things that you might have skipped over if it was “just a to-do list”, but will also help you find some mental clarity so you can actually take action at the end of this process.

Step 2: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

Here’s another secret no one tells you about to-do lists: you can’t work off of a list! 

Imagine putting together a piece of furniture or following a recipe when you have the steps, but not the order you’re supposed to do them in. Super confusing, right? Without prioritizing your to-do list, that’s exactly what you’re doing! You’ve got to know not just what you want to get done, but what order you want to be doing it in.

Okay, so how do we prioritize?

One of my favorite ways to sort through my to-do list is using something called The Eisenhower Matrix (or, the Importance-Urgency Matrix). I wrote a whole blog post about how to use this strategy here, but here’s your tl;dr…

For each item on your list, ask yourself: “Is this Urgent? Is this Important?” Then, pop that task into the appropriate quadrant.

That’s it! Easy peasy.

Step 3: Declutter your to-do list

You know those tasks that you put down in the “Not Important & Not Urgent” quadrant in Step 2? Yeah, let’s go ahead and throw those out the window right now.

I’m not kidding – why are these on your list to begin with? If it’s not something you need to get done in the near future, and it’s not even important to you, then chances are you’ll be just fine if you don’t do it at all.

Maybe you have a new idea that doesn’t actually fit with your overall strategy right now. Maybe it’s something someone else tried to force onto your to-do list for their own benefit. If that person was your boss, then you should probably consider doing it. But if it was anyone else…probably not.

Taking a closer look at the things in your “Urgent, but Not Important” category is another opportunity to declutter your list. Since it’s urgent, it probably needs to get done soon. But since you’ve just decided that it’s not important, then maybe it doesn’t need to get done by you. Is this something you could delegate to someone else – colleague or family member? Is it something you could automate so that it’s done by technology instead of your valuable human effort?

I want you to get really creative in this step, and declutter your to-do list until there’s nothing else you could possibly get rid of.

Step 4: Estimate how long each task will take

Whew, are you still with me? You’re a champ! Don’t worry, we’re going to take action on this list soon. But before we start doing things, it’s extremely helpful to estimate how long you expect each of these tasks to take.

Why? Two reasons.

First, doing this helps you make sure you set realistic expectations for what you want to accomplish today. Be generous with how much time you allocate to each task, and add up the time for all the tasks you think you want to get done today. Does it make sense for your day? Do you still have room in there for things like eating and short breaks?

Second, once you’ve done this consistently for a while, you start to get much better at actually predicting how long different tasks might take you. This, of course, means better planning in the future! 

Giving your tasks actual time allotments means not only being more productive but also feeling more satisfied with what you got done that day. 

Step 5: Don’t stop there – add it to your calendar!

Even after your list is prioritized, decluttered, and has time estimates attached to it, this last step of adding it to your calendar is super important!

This is where you get to turn that to-do list into an action plan. My favorite strategy for this is called calendar blocking, where you add blocks of what you’re going to be doing to every hour of your day to plan it out. Use digital, use paper, use whatever calendar format works for you. And, because you already did Step 4, this is going to be as easy as dragging and dropping everything into a time slot!

As you take a step back, you’ll find that the overwhelming, never-ending to-do list is a thing of the past. Now, you have something you can actually work with. It’s a strategic plan that you put together, for yourself, based on your own priorities, and it’s going to make you more productive than you’ve been in months

By using this process to upgrade your to-do list, feeling great about your day is not only within reach, it’s being handed to you on a silver platter. Now all that’s left is for you to go out there and make it happen!

P.S. Want a workbook that you can print and use to guide yourself through this process every week? Click here to download it for free!

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