To-do lists that work

When I posted about aiming low and going slow, I was struck that several people commented that one way they do that is by managing their to-do lists.

Rachael said:

“Ways I “aim low”: write short to-do lists, not wish lists (though, frankly, I’m working on this one — it’s really tough); break big projects down into teeny-tiny little bits that I can take care of one at at time.”

SleeplessinSummerville said,

“The first thing I realized I needed to change was my relationship with my to-do list. Now my expectations of what I’ll do in a day are far more reasonable and yet at the same time, I feel like I get more done. Perhaps I’m just happier because I learned that I have to schedule the fun stuff ahead of the work so that the work does not prevent enjoying life.”

I have also found that short daily to-do lists–no more than three or four items on a typical day–helps me keep my brain from completely shorting out. When I add too many things to my plate, I tend to get overwhelmed just looking at the list, can’t decide where to start, and start procrastinating, avoiding, and spinning my wheels.

On the other hand, when I make my to-do list short, I usually accomplish more than I would if my to-do list was longer. Giving myself a little bit of guidance without laying on too much pressure seems to help me stay both productive and creative. And of course, when I just don’t have the energy or time to dominate the world–or at least the list–it feels a lot less like failure when it’s only one or two things I didn’t get to than when it’s, say, nine.

I do create a longer to-do list at the beginning of the week, but then I prioritize and break the larger list down into much smaller daily lists. I’ll share my system in a future post, but thought it would be fun to talk about the ways we keep our to-do lists reasonable.

How do you manage your to-do list? Do you find that keeping it small and manageable helps you stay focused, on task, and relaxed?

Congratulations to Jill for winning a spot in the upcoming Raising Happiness class and a copy of Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, Ph.D.! I’m going to leave up the Raising Happiness affiliate button to the right in case anyone else is interested in signing up for the class (coming up soon–the next session starts April 4!) If you sign up using the sidebar button or this link, I get a (much appreciated) commission.

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