Excuses are awesome. They help us procrastinate. They help us rationalize not starting that workout plan that we promised we’d begin for the new year. They even help us rationalize that the extra winter weight that is now extra summer weight is not big of a deal (until you get invited to a pool party). They help us put cleaning out the attic or garage or that scary closet in the unused bedroom downstairs that is surely where the wild things are. They help us not call that friend or family member that we assume by some act of telepathy that they should know how busy we are and how much we love them. Excuses help us not engage our commitments and responsibilities. But why do we put effort into not putting forth effort? Because life can be overwhelming, especially when you try to work it out in your head. Let’s face it: thinking, remembering and analyzing can be hard. As much as the latest iGadget and the fastest number of Gs (3G, 4G) we have, we are not computers. I repeat: we are not computers. However, an accessible solution is the to-do list.
The to-do list is an organized memo that can successfully structure your day. That’s right. That written Post-it note isn’t cutting it. You need more space to organize your thoughts. The operative word is organize. Many of us are overwhelmed because we think about all of the tasks we have to accomplish in 24 hours that can be as small as a morning workout or as large as finishing that report for your boss or client whose idea of a deadline is more of a suggestion for “I need this now.”
One way to make your to-do list count is to organize it in a way that is easy to read and easy to execute by following some rules.
1. Your to-do list should have no more than five items: 2 high-priority items and 3 low-importance items. You only have at most 16 hours per day to work minus the suggested eight hours of sleep.
2. Make separate lists for separate areas of your life. For example, you can make separate lists for family, school and work. The goal is to keep these lists separate. To-do lists are easier to execute when you don’t see all of the tasks for the day in one place. Remember, we’re trying to relieve stress and be productive.
3. Commit to the day’s to-do list, and nothing more. If you commit to your list, it is easier to not over commit yourself.
4. Realize that some of your high-priority items may extend to the next day’s list. If so, place this item or items at the top of the next day’s list. But, wait. Isn’t this procrastination or an excuse? No. It’s honest. Sometimes you are not the fastest, strongest or best kid in the class, so don’t expect that you’ll get a gold star every day. Some days you can only get an ‘E’ for effort.
5. Hold yourself accountable. And if you can’t, get a wingman (wingperson?) to ask you if you’ve made your to-do list for the day. Sometimes it helps to have someone to check on your progress. Note to wingman: You may be required to nag.
Make your to-do list today. It will take time to make this a habit, but you will appreciate the payoff when the stress of trying to pack two days into one is lifted. If you don’t like using paper, you can use Microsoft Outlook Tasks, Evernote or Google Tasks. Good luck and no excuses.