How to Make a To Do List

Do your To-Do lists make sense?  Is your office a rainbow of sticky notes? Do you put “brush your teeth” on your to do list because you’re worried you’ll forget? Do you feel overwhelmed? Keep reading.

“I have so many things on my to do list I don’t even know where to start” is a common problem I’ve been encountering a lot recently. Making To-Do Lists can be a very effective organizational tool. Dr. Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto is all about the impact checklists have in reducing errors and maximizing efficiency in various settings such as the operating room or the cockpit of a plane.

There is a science to, and a reason for, making lists. It wasn’t until I walked into my room and saw the rainbow of sticky notes that I realized how inexperienced I was at making lists (and saving trees).

Unfortunately I learned the old-fashioned way (i.e., trial and error), but I wanted to share some ideas about making lists that have helped me tremendously. So here is a list about how to make lists.

(1) Trust Yourself

Does your “To-Do” list look like the sticky note below? Do you put too many things on your list? Many times we add things to our “To-Do” list that don’t need to be there. If there are tasks on your “To-Do” list that are regular habits that normally don’t require reminding then I encourage you to ask yourself “why are these on my list?.” In other words, take them off the list. If you make your bed everyday and take a shower without needing a reminder then you don’t need a reminder. Note: For those of us with OCD this can be more challenging than it seems. 

(2) Three Lists, One Location

If you’re the type that either uses one extremely long list or uses an entire package of sticky notes daily then that’s too many tasks on one list or too many lists, respectively. It isn’t helpful or efficient to have lists all over your home, your car, and your office. One long list is hard enough to keep track of. Multiple lists in multiple locations is just a recipe for frustration and irritation. Pick one location for your To-Do List. I recommend the “Notes” App on your phone OR one (1) small notebook. 

Once you’ve decided on a location, divide your “To-Do” list into three separate lists and label each “P-1”, “P-2″, and P-3.” The “P” stands for “priority.” See the chalkboard below.

Priority List 1 (P-1)

This list is for tasks you must complete within three (3) days or 72 hours. This does not mean what you’d hope to get done or prefer to get done. If it can wait more than 72 hours, it doesn’t go on the list. In other words, the tasks listed on P-1 (or “P-1 Tasks”) are not casual tasks. P-1 tasks are near emergency-level tasks. These include deadlines coming up for work (if due within 72 hours), personal financial deadlines (if due within 72 hours), daily chores around the house (if due within 72 hours), and school/homework assignments (if due within 72 hours).

Priority List 2 (P-2)

This list is for tasks you must complete within thirty (30) days or one (1) month. This does not mean tasks you’ve been meaning to do or “home projects” you’ve been wanting to do (unless you must do them within one month for a specific reason/requirement). Note how P-2 level tasks are not emergencies but they aren’t to be ignored either. They hang around because they are important enough to make themselves present but not popular enough to draw everyone’s attention.

Priority List 3 (P-3)

This list represents the rest of your To-Do items that need to be completed within three (3) to six (6) months. This is where you put those home projects and nonurgent work-related tasks. P-3 tasks are the lowest priority tasks. These tasks are the ones that can wait. 

The MTI Method

Now that you have three separate lists, the method for completing the tasks is equally important and very simple (but also the most likely to derail you). You must remain diligent!

The MTI Method:

All P-1 tasks must be either completed or unavailable before moving on to P-2 tasks. All P-2 tasks must be either completed or unavailable before moving on to P-3 tasks.

A Recap

In conclusion (sounds like a high school essay), no P-2 Task may be completed until either all P-1 tasks are completed OR you are unable to complete a P-1 task for logistical reasons (legitimate reasons). If you have the ability to do the task, then refer to the Nike motto below.

If you cannot do one of the tasks because the store is closed that day or you don’t have transportation, then you are allowed to move on to the next priority list so long as all tasks on the previous list are either completed or undoable.

When you begin doing this you will slowly start learning what truly represents a P-1, P-2, or P-3 level task. It will take some practice and some trial and error but it will help declutter your life and improve your efficiency and productivity without feeling overwhelmed.

Allow yourself to make some mistakes along the way. It’s expected. It’s how you learn. 

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