How to Focus on Your To-do List

list-372766_640Life can sometimes feel overwhelming with so many things to do.  Do you feel you can never keep up? 

Every time you manage to cross off one thing on your to-do list, something comes along to replace it, and it’s often two or three.

I know what it’s like.  I’ve had to juggle lots of things in my life: children, pets, jobs, garden, oh and some life for myself too.

Would you like to learn the simple trick that has worked for me, and still does?

I wish I’d worked it out sooner, because my life would have run much more smoothly, and I wouldn’t have forgotten those urgent things that just have to be done, and had to somehow squeeze them in when I felt exhausted at the end of the day.  But never mind, it works really well for me now. 

Its simplicity almost embarrasses me now, but I tried a lot of different variations before I found this way.

And how did it come to me?  It has been a mixture of finding out what others do, and then Focusing on my problem, and making it my own system, one which works well for me.

At one time I had different notebooks for the different aspects of my life, but that got messy, and now I only have to carry one tiny book with me (or you can use your phone).  It wasn’t a bad system, but with all the different things in my life I was juggling, it was just too complicated.

And I’ve tried several electronic methods, on-line diaries with integrated to-do lists, apps that help you prioritise, and lists that will sort things in any order you want.  They’ve all worked after a fashion, but were never quite good enough.  I still saw that ever-lengthening list, and it would take precious time just to keep it under control.

I also find that writing things down, with a pen, onto paper, not only helps me to remember it, but helps me think around any problems associated with it, sometimes getting a new perspective.  

This system has helped me feel much more in control of all the things that have to be done, and as a result, I am much more relaxed.

Would you like to feel more relaxed and in control?  Here it is:

  • Take one journal book – like this one:

  • Many designs will work.  You need one that’s going to last, and not fall apart before it’s full.  I like this style because the pages are stitched in, are already numbered, there are Contents pages at the front, and an expandable pocket in the back cover where you can keep loose pieces of paper.
  • And you need a smaller notebook that will fit in a pocket (and the smaller notebook might be the notes page on your phone.)

I start at the beginning of the book and write my first to-do list on page 1 (after the Contents page).  I add a note in the contents page of the heading and page number. 

This list might be quite long, and I keep adding to it until the page is full.  It might include things like: collect dry cleaning before Wednesday, get quotes for painting the house, write a novel, where shall I go on holiday next year, etc.  Some are immediate tasks, some more long-term and some are wishful thinking.

I use this book for all my notes and lists, always adding the page number in the contents page.  For example, I have a page for admin/business; one for books that friends have recommended to me.  Another page lists possible gifts, so that when it comes to birthdays I am not struggling to remember what I discovered three months before would be the perfect gift for my daughter.  I have a list of things I need to do in the house; one of blog ideas (!); one of thoughts about future yoga lessons and equipment to buy; questions to ask my mentor, etc.

  • Everything that is urgent has a star next to it, or is highlighted. 
  • Everything that has an important timescale has the date next to it.
  • Each new page/list starts on the next available fresh page.  There are no blank pages in between the pages that are already used.
  • Each page heading has a number in the contents page, and if the content goes on to a further page, I just add this to the contents page, so it might look like this:
    • To-do list – pages 1, 5, 9, 27.
    • Recommended books – page 2
    • Admin/business – page 3
    • Birthdays – page 4
    • Yoga notes – page 6        etc.

Doing it this way means that:

  • everything is in one place
  • you never run out of room until the book is full
  • you can find everything in the book because it is (very easily) indexed

So far, so good, but it can still seem overwhelming with all these different pages.  So what I do next is the simple thing that has made all the difference.

I have a separate small notebook that fits easily in a pocket, and each day I transfer from the bigger lists those things that absolutely must be done, and those that I feel I can achieve today.  In the main book, I cross off what I’ve managed to do, or that may seem irrelevant now (and that does happen!).  I prefer to do this in the morning, but you can do it at any regular time. 

This smaller list has to be achievable in one day.  It takes less than five minutes to flick through the main journal and write out.  And it means that I don’t feel overwhelmed with the multitude of things, some of which are urgent, and some wishful thinking.

Changing the way you currently organise your list of jobs to do may seem an impossible task, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. 

The secret to organising it is this:

  • Buy yourself two notebooks – one larger, one smaller (or create a page on your phone for the smaller one)
  • Set aside an 30 minutes to an hour (and it make take less) to get down in the larger book all those tasks that have to be done.  Set up and index other pages you might need.  This is a one-off task.
  • You don’t need to get everything down at this stage, just the really important stuff that’s nagging at you. You can keep adding to it whenever you want to.
  • Transfer to the smaller book (or your phone) what you can achieve today – nothing more.
  • Tomorrow, in the larger book
    • Cross out what’s been done
    • Add anything new. 
    • And on a new page in the smaller book or phone, add today’s tasks.

And that’s it.

Would this simple system work for you?  Would it help you manage your to-do lists?

If it would, just use it.  Get started.  It’s easy, takes very little time, and you can adapt it to work for you.  But do get started.

I’ve included this article in a Focusing blog, because I found Focusing on the issue helped me to work out how to achieve something that was bugging me.  

And I thought you’d be interested to know another way that Focusing can be really helpful in everyday life.

Don’t add this advice to your To-Do list.  Do it!