Well, we’ve reached August.
As I mentioned last week, back to school is in the air. And for many of us, work schedules tend to get a bit busier within the next few weeks. I know they certainly do for me as I prep for my fall courses.
So today I thought I would dive into all things organization today to help us get ahead of the game.
That way, when our schedules do get extra busy, we’ll have our ducks in a row. We will be able to take everything in stride.
And we are going to do this today by focusing on our to-do list.
And more specifically, we are going to discuss how to create and maintain an organized to-do list.
Are you ready to dive in?
Awesome! Let’s do this!
The Best Way to Organize Your To-Do List: 5 Easy Tips
Choose Your To-do List Approach
I’ve been a to-do list fanatic for as long as I can remember. I always seem to have a running list of things I need to accomplish. Similarly, I’m constantly jotting down new ideas or projects that I want to pursue.
What’s more, during the last 10+ years or so, I’ve tried many different approaches to creating my to-do lists.
I’ve used classic planners (this one is my favorite!), a simple notebook, the notes app on my phone, countless to-do list apps, and a few different project management systems like ASANA and Trello.
What I’ve learned while experimenting with these different approaches that there’s no system that’s better than another. Rather, each one has its strengths. What’s really important is finding a system that works best for you.
If you prefer a paper and pen approach, then you might experiment by using a traditional planner, creating a bullet journal, or simply keeping a small notebook with you at all times.
If you like simplicity and having everything in one place, use google calendar or the notes app on your phone.
Perhaps you’re a techy person, and you like having the option to organize and categorize your to-do list with ease. Then you might try different to-do list apps or project management systems.
I personally love the project management system ASANA. It is basically like your own personal assistant that reminds you when your tasks and projects are due.
However, I often find myself returning to my bullet journal or paper planner – I use the passion planner – simply because I am old school and I find I remember things better when I physically write them down with a pen.
So if you’re looking for the best way to organize your to-do list, the first step is to choose a system that works best with your workstyle. There is no right or wrong approach here, the secret is simply picking one and using it consistently.
Record Your Tasks
After you choose your to-do list system, the next step is to record all of the tasks you need to complete. I recommend doing this a couple of different ways.
First, make a master list at the beginning of the month for everything you want to accomplish over the next four weeks.
Then, take time at the start of each week to create a more detailed list of what you want to accomplish over the next seven days. This can be work-related. It could be errands like grocery shopping. And it might include getting a massage or taking a yoga class, etc.
There is nothing fancy about this step. Simply take a piece of paper and brainstorm all of the different things you need to accomplish over the next week. We will start organizing this list in the next step.
Group Like Items Together
Now that you have your list of tasks for the upcoming week, the next step is to start organizing them.
What I like to do is categorize them into different groups. Now, again, this can differ depending on your type of to-do list.
You might categorize your tasks into more general groups, including, work, home, errands, and side hustle.
You might have a to-do list specifically for work, and those tasks might fall under meetings, projects, phone calls, and presentations.
Perhaps you have a to-do list for all the things you need to accomplish at home and the categories may include, cleaning, sports practices, errands, and school events.
So again, take a look at your list of to-dos and think about the different categories that would be appropriate for your tasks and group them accordingly.
Rank Your Tasks
Now that you have created your list of tasks, and you have grouped them according to categories, it’s time to rank them according to importance.
I recommend ranking the tasks in each category numerically. So if you have 10 different tasks under your errands category, rank them from 1-10 with 1 being the most important.
Once you have ranked each of the separate categories, then, choose 3-5 items from your entire list that you think are the most important. What are the top 3-5 tasks on your list that you need to finish in the upcoming week?
This means you might have one item from your meetings category, two tasks from your project category, and one item from your phone calls category.
By taking the time to identify the most important priorities on your entire to-do list, you will have an easier time mapping out your schedule in the next step.
Schedule Your To-do Lists
So you have created your list, you’ve grouped like items together, and you’ve identified your top priorities. It is now time to schedule them for the month and week ahead.
If you have big projects listed, schedule them out over the next four weeks.
And with the smaller tasks – or with portions of the bigger project you listed on your month – schedule them throughout the upcoming week.
Try not to include more than 2-3 big tasks for each day. If you over-do your to-do list each day, you’re just setting yourself up for failure and frustration.
In short, be realistic when you create that to-do list.
Similarly, if you find that you are listing several major tasks in your calendar, consider breaking them down into smaller, step-by-step tasks.
This means that rather than writing “build website,” on Monday, you might include several smaller steps like: “Decide on website theme.” “Purchase a domain.” “Choose brand colors.” Etc.
You see, when we simply list the giant tasks in our to-do list, our brain freezes up.
It gets stuck in analysis paralysis, and it doesn’t know where to begin.
When you take the time to break down those tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, however, you tell your brain exactly what it needs to do. You remove the guesswork, so when you sit down to begin your day, you can simply dive in and get started.
And finally, before you begin your work each day – or the night before – take time to map out the workday ahead. Write down specifically what tasks you are going to work on and when you are going to do them. Remove all of the guesswork so when you sit down to work, you can get started immediately.
As an added bonus, breaking your to-do list into smaller tasks can help you identify opportunities to eliminate extra steps. For example, if you were researching the best set of glasses to buy, you might break it down to “research the best brands,” “research discounted brands,” and “find the best lens shape for my face.” Once you break this down, you may realize there is a quick way to address all of these needs by using a buying guide that addresses everything at once. Hooray for saving time!
The Best Way to Organize Your To-Do List: How to Avoid Overwhelm
Now, I want to note that your brain may rush into “freak-out” mode as you start listing all of the tasks you need to accomplish.
Sometimes when we aren’t used to writing down the tasks we need to do, seeing that long list can feel overwhelming.
First of all, remember that this is completely normal.
And second of all, remind yourself that by getting organized, you’re actually helping to remove that stress and overwhelm in the long run.
You see, when we aren’t mindful of the tasks that we need to accomplish, we often just let those things swirl around in our brains all day.
So as we try and get work done throughout the day, we often have those to-dos pop into our mind. And they usually cause an unexpected burst of anxiety.
We keep worrying that we might forget to do the task because we have “so much to do.” And because we never took time to make that to-do list concrete, we don’t actually know what we need to do. We don’t have that list in front of us.
But when you take time at the beginning of each week and each day to write down your tasks, you’re actually telling your brain, “Don’t worry. I got this. I’m not going to forget these tasks.”
In other words, you’re eliminating anxiety before it even has a chance to show up. You’re organized, you’re on top of your game, and you’re ready to tackle that to-do list with ease.
Recap: The Best Way to Organize Your To-do List
So there you have it, the best way to organize your to-do list and boost your productivity.
As a quick recap, here are the steps again:
- Choose the to-do list approach that works best for you. Whether you’re a paper planner person, a lover of tech, or you simply prefer a classic notebook, find a strategy that you love and stick with it.
- Record all of your tasks. Take some time to record everything that you need to accomplish in the near future. I love to do both a month list of the big projects as well as a weekly list every Sunday afternoon.
- Group Like Items Together. Once you’ve recorded all of your tasks, take some time to group those items together. Depending on your type of to-do list, these categories might all be work specific, for example, meetings, phone calls, projects, and presentations. Or, they might be more broadly defined, for example, work, home, errands, and side hustle. Categorize your tasks using a strategy that fits best with your to-do list.
- Rank Your Tasks. Once you’ve grouped your like items together, take some time to rank your tasks in order of importance. Start by ranking each category, and then highlight the top 3-5 most important tasks for your entire list.
- Schedule Your Tasks. Schedule your big projects out over the upcoming month, and then schedule the smaller tasks – or smaller portions of the big projects – for the week ahead. By breaking down those big projects into step-by-step items, you help remove overwhelm. You give your brain clear directions of where to start first.
Sound good? Great! Then get to it!
What is your favorite way to organize your to-do list? Do you ever struggle to get organized? Are you a fan or electronic or paper planners? Let me know below!