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Calm in the Chaos

How to Make A To-Do List Work for You

Here's one problem I have with to-do lists: I've been known to put an item on the list after I complete it just so I can check it off! (Admit it if you've done it too. I know I'm not the only person.)
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

by Jamie Spannhake

September 12, 2020

Calm in the Chaos

How to Make A To-Do List Work for You

Here's one problem I have with to-do lists: I've been known to put an item on the list after I complete it just so I can check it off! (Admit it if you've done it too. I know I'm not the only person.)

by Jamie Spannhake

September 12, 2020

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Would you rather listen to and watch this post? It's on my YouTube channel (please click over and subscribe!), and embedded here:


I'm not a big fan of to-do lists. Sure, they help us get things done, but the run-of-the-mill to-do list doesn't contemplate whether things on the list are important or help us move the ball forward toward a point where we want to be.

Worse yet, we sometimes put things on our to-do list simply so we can check them off. I've even put an item on the list after I completed it just so I could check it off! (Admit it if you've done it too. I know I'm not the only person.)

But the biggest problem with to-do lists is that they often serve to distract us from doing the things that really matter. When there is something that I think will be difficult, I sometimes procrastinate, avoiding the process pain of tackling a difficult task. But I don't like to feel unproductive, so I make a to-do list and go to work getting things done. Makes me feel good, yet I'm not accomplishing anything that matters much. 

Sometimes we believe we can't build our dream because we have too many other things to do. But this is often an excuse. I still fall into this trap sometimes.

I attended the Independent Women Virtual Summit this weekend, and one of the speakers, Rose Chastain, was presenting on business growth and practices. In response to a question from a woman who lamented that she did not have time to grow her business, Rose suggested that the questioner make a LONG LIST of all the things that she needs to get done. Then assess whether all those things must really happen. 

I LOVE this idea, in part because I often feel like I have too much to do. When I write it all down, I see one of two things: (1) I don't have too much to do, so I can get it all done with proper planning, or (2) I have too much to do, so I can get all the things that are important accomplished with proper planning. 

This is similar to the 168 Hours Exercise that I teach in my book and in my time management webinars and presentations. The heart of the exercise is to realize and accept that there are only 168 hours in a week, so there is only so much that a person can do. If you have more than 168 hours of things to do, then you must make choices: not do some tasks or have someone else do some tasks or do the task more efficiently. 

Related Content: Watch my time management webinar, Transform Your Relationship with Time, on YouTube. Subscribe while you are there for updates!

This leads to the helpful way to utilize a to-do list: as a distraction list. When you are trying to focus on a task but feel yourself being distracted by all the other things that must be done -- make that doctor's appointment, trim the dog's nails, call your mom, unsubscribe from unwanted clothing store emails, and so on -- write them down on your to-do list. Then turn back to the important task at hand. This will allow to stay focused without jumping up to handle the distraction at that moment.

You have a place to keep those items so you don't forget them, and you have an opportunity later to assess whether an item is important before you spend time doing the task. If an item is important, then it can become part of your daily, weekly, or life plan.

I recently did this, and I listed FORTY-FIVE items, some big ticket items and some little things. Of the 45, these are the 7 items that only I can do, in no particular order:

  1. Practice piano
  2. Yoga
  3. Run
  4. Lift weights
  5. Spend time with friends
  6. Sleep
  7. Learn/practice Spanish

Of these 7, there is only one that I MUST do: sleep. The rest, I could choose not to do, but I believe they are important, so they will stay.

Then there are 8 more that I want to do myself:

  1. Plan my daughter's birthday party
  2. Walk my dogs
  3. Pick out new glasses
  4. Write this blog post
  5. Write my social media posts
  6. Write my weekly newsletter
  7. Develop a new webinar
  8. Create new video content

I could hire someone to do ALL these things, but I WANT to do them. 

The remaining 30 things can either not be done or I can hire someone to do them. They are things like clean my carpet, grocery shop, install basement trim, make eye doctor appointments, and so on. Maybe it is time to hire a virtual assistant?!

Write your to-do aka distraction list. What's on it? What must you do? What do you want to do? What can be removed from the list as unnecessary? To whom can you delegate which tasks? Who can you pay to do some of the tasks?

You may have more time than you think!


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