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A Guide to Ditching the Daily To Do List


Lists make me feel organized. Getting thoughts out of my head and on paper (or digital notebook) clears my mind and decreases the feeling of having a million things to remember and get done. I used to start each and every day with a fresh new to-do list. Every morning I would end up moving half of the items I didn’t get done the day before onto my daily list due to trying to squeeze too much in one day. Over the last few months I’ve been changing the way I make my lists and have ditched the daily to do list.

why a daily to do list can be bad

Every day you have high hopes for getting a lot crossed off your list so you jot down everything you’d like to get done for the day. What most people don’t realize is that they are stuffing their day with more than they can possibly do. If you sit down to make your list in the morning and are regularly moving things over from the previous day, you’re always going to be frustrated that you didn’t finish it the day before. Feeling like you failed the day before is not a good way to start the day.

keep your lists short(er)

I’m definitely one of those people who would like to write down every single thing I do each day so I can cross it off. But spending your days adding little things to your list is a waste of time. Instead if you’re about to write down something that will only take you 1-2 minutes, just get it done and move to the next thing. Adding something like “invoice client for 2 hours of design work” to your list when it’ll only take you one minute will only make your list longer and more daunting.

create master lists

Rather than creating a new list everyday, keep master lists by class or project. I a master list each of my clients, my blog, my job at the rescue, house projects, etc. Each time I think of something that needs to get done, I add it to the correct master list. To track priority, I recommend starring the items that absolutely need to be done the soonest and crossing them out as soon as they’re done. Once everything that’s been starred has been crossed off, you can review your list again and add more stars. If you do this digitally (not with pen and paper) you can use a program like Wunderlist and you can just drag and drop them in the desired order. I use a combination of Wunderlist and Asana (clients and business).

keep a calendar

Most people keep some sort of a calendar, usually to schedule vacations and appointments. But I use my calendar much more than that. If I have something that needs to get done by a deadline or something that needs to be done regularly, I add that to my calendar. For example, I bill my clients on the 1st and 15th of each month, so rather than adding that to a master list, I add it to my google calendar with a reminder set to remind me the day before. Try to resist adding everything to your calendar to add deadlines, only add what’s really needed to be done by or on a certain day.

weekly goals

While I avoid a daily to do list, I still strive to set weekly and monthly goals. These are not 50 item long lists, but rather a short list of goals to meet each week and month. You can see my weekly goals here to see what I mean. These are just to keep myself generally on track, but not in a strict daily list sort of way. It’s also a great way to know where to focus your efforts and a little win when you complete your goals because you haven’t overloaded yourself.

I can tell you from experience that ditching my daily to do list has eased my constant sense of urgency and chaos. Do you keep a daily to do list? What are your tips for list keeping and productivity?

One comment on “A Guide to Ditching the Daily To Do List

  1. Love the article! Especially the focus on also including calendars, and going a bit away from using lists exclusively. At Sheldonize, we developed an application that does exactly that. It allows you to focus on what you want to get done this week or today and automatically schedules your tasks then today or this week. This all by taking into account meetings or deadlines you would have.

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