To-Do Lists are Great



“It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” — Dizzy Dean

I’m a fan of To-Do lists.

But not your ordinary To-Do lists of a bunch of things that will never happen.

I like my To-Do lists to be a short-list of my top three most important achievements for the day, and a simple set of reminders of things I need to do or should get to, that are non-obvious, new, or simply important.

That helps me prioritize my day, stay focused, and get back on track when things don’t go as planned.

In the book The Best Four Years: How To Survive and Thrive in College (and Life), Adam Shepard shares his ideas on why To-Do lists are great and how to use To-Do lists more effectively to get things done.

Shepard’s approach is simple, straightforward, and aligns with mine, so I thought it would be helpful to share it here.

To-Do Lists are Great to Help You with Your Day

To-Do lists are your friend, if you use them wisely.  It’s all about how you design them and how you think about them.

Via The Best Four Years: How To Survive and Thrive in College (and Life):

“If you ask me, to-do lists are great.  I spent my whole college career working off to-do lists.  In fact, I thrived off them because accomplishing one task would boost me up and get me ready for the next.  It was like a scavenger hunt I planned for myself each morning.  Before I knew it, my list was complete and I’d still have hours left to burn in the day.  If you’re the kind of person, though, who gets flustered and frustrated when all tasks aren’t completed at the end of the day (rather than simply carrying them over to the next day, as sane people do), it might be better to amend the traditional to-do list system a bit.”

Make Two Lists

Make a list for things that MUST be done and a list for things that SHOULD be done.

Via The Best Four Years: How To Survive and Thrive in College (and Life):

“Try this: Every morning, take out a scratch piece of paper and write out your class and appointment schedule.  Then off to the side, make two do-do lists.  One is a list of imperative tasks that must be completed immediately:

  • Buy toothpaste
  • Call car-insurance agent
  • Read chapters 6-8
  • E-mail Professor Morton to request a letter of recommendation

You second list is an ongoing list of sorts, less important tasks, but still tasks that you can work on in your free time.

  • Write outline for English comp essay
  • Work chest and abs at gym
  • Call Ma and Pa”

Don’t Throw a Fit If You Don’t Get It All Done

Your To-Do list is a plan.  Things don’t always go according to plan.

Via The Best Four Years: How To Survive and Thrive in College (and Life):

“If you’re managing your time effectively (and you are, because you’re paying attention to everything I’m writing to you), you’ll get all your tier-one tasks done without issue and you’ll make a worthwhile dent in your second list.  Either way, you won’t throw a fit if your day gets thrown a curveball  and you don’t get everything done.  Tasks that don’t’ get completed simply get carried over to the next day.”

To-Do Lists Help You Get Back On Track

Your To-Do list is a simple set of reminders that help guide your actions throughout the day and help you remember what to focus on.

Via The Best Four Years: How To Survive and Thrive in College (and Life):

“The reason to-do lists were so effective for me throughout college is because I tend to be a tad scatterbrained.  I’ll get going with the day, and before I know it, it’ll be lunchtime and I’ll be wondering what it was I was supposed to remember to do.  A quick glimpse at my to-do list gets me back (and keeps me) on track.  And it takes only two minutes in the morning.”

Don’t Go Overboard with To Do Lists

You don’t need to list out the things you already do everyday as part of a habit or common sense.  Your To-Do list is more valuable when it helps remind you of things you might forget.  It also helps you remember what’s new or what’s important.

Via The Best Four Years: How To Survive and Thrive in College (and Life):

“Don’t go overboard making your to-do list.  I know some list lovers who take it to the extreme:
Put shoes on
Eat breakfast
Go to bathroom
Feed dog
Empty trash
Brush teeth
Make to-do list for the afternoon

No way.  Your to do list is for items beyond the obvious.”

The big thing to keep in mind is that your To-Do lists work for you.

Don’t break yourself against your To-Do lists.

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Image by ~ezs.