Make it Specific, and Make it Fit!

By Lissa Cupp, vice president, e-Commerce & Consumer Marketing, ACCO Brands

The to-do list is a primary and vital part of the organization process that you strive to follow every day. When teamed with a functional, up-to-date personal planner and/or calendar, it becomes the driving force behind our actions throughout the day, be it at the office, with the family or during “me” time.

That same to-do list, however, can also be a barrier to success if not properly used and maintained. How so? We’ve all had those days when we look at our to-do lists and see a virtual manifest of actions that only a team of a dozen individuals could possibly complete. Likewise, many times your list contains items that are beyond your reach, too general to really accomplish and not action-oriented.

You wonder not only how things got this out of hand, but also how will you ever get back on track?

There are two general rules of thumb that, if followed, will pretty much guarantee a viable and realistic to-do list. Simply put, make it specific and make it fit. Let’s look at both of these and explore some solutions on how you can apply these rules to your daily list.

While you want to keep the items on your to-do list concise, you need to ensure they are specific enough and provide actions that are accomplishable during that day. People tend to ignore or put off tasks that are too general or vague in nature due to a true inability to actually accomplish these types of tasks. For your to-do list, use these tips when recording your tasks for the day:

  • Make sure there are appropriate instructions associated with each task, which is best accomplished by making sure it is action oriented. A couple examples of tasks that provide actionable instructions include, “Put up outdoor Fall decorations” and “List household expenses for the month.”
  • Don’t use one-word tasks and avoid any types of abbreviations. These habits can make a task seem daunting, undefined or even lost in translation. Using the examples above, avoid simply saying, “Budget” or “Decor,” for instance.
  • If you have a large task that isn’t action oriented by nature, break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces, much like we’ve done with the examples above.

Just as important as making certain your tasks are specific is keeping your to-do list manageable. In other words, it needs to “fit” into the time you have in your day. All of us are limited by time, and it’s so easy and tempting to make a list of everything you possibly would need to do over the next few days, months or even years. This, of course, is counterproductive and will most likely result in the ready disposal of the list!

To make sure your tasks “fit” into your to-do list, consider some of the following tips:

  • Always start the day with a fresh list and compile the tasks from your planner or calendar.
  • Only schedule 3-5 priority tasks and record times when you expect to have each completed. Rounding them off at 15 minute increments is helpful in this exercise.
  • Don’t overbook yourself—make sure your list is manageable and leaves time for those unexpected tasks that pop up during the day.
  • Group similar tasks together so they can be completed more efficiently.

If you want to be truly organized and plan your days accordingly, the to-do list is a must. And as long as you keep it specific and make it fit, you’re on your way to checking off your tasks and meeting your goals.

[photo by Courtney Dirk]

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