Whether your list is on paper or digital, it can be very difficult to reign in your to-do list.
There are always so many things to get done! I want to share with you the way I’ve found to work time and time again for making my to-do list into a done list.
First thing’s first: make sure you know what things are worth doing and what aren’t. If you put everything on your list that you could possibly do, there’s no way you’ll ever finish – and worse, you’ll have no cohesion to the progress you do make so it won’t have a very big impact. If you need help with this, I suggest going through my super-inexpensive business plan course.
Now that we’ve got that sorted, make a massive list of everything you want to get done, including stuff that’s kind of out in the future.
Go through the list and cross off anything that doesn’t pass the test of making sense for you, your art, and your business. For instance, if you hate being on Facebook but on your list is to start a Facebook account and run ads, cross it off. There is nothing that you absolutely have to do or your business won’t work, so it’s much better to be honest with yourself and assign yourself the things that are most likely to get done, and done well.
Now separate your list into three smaller lists: this week, this month, and someday.
Be honest here too (your list will be a total waste if you aren’t honest with yourself) and only put things on the week and month lists that really belong there and that could really get accomplished in that time.
If you have trouble with a couple tasks that take longer than a week or a month but you don’t want them on the someday list, you need to break the task into smaller chunks.
Bite-sized is the most effective way to get your to-do’s done.
For instance, if you want to start selling your art onto pillows, a horrible task idea would be, “Put my art on pillows”. You can’t figure out how long that would take and it certainly looks so overwhelming on your list that you’ll keep putting it off. Instead, break that down into tasks like, “Pick 5 pieces that would look great on a square pillow” and “Research online print-on-demand services that offer pillows and make a chart of their pricing to compare” and “Set a retail price for the pillows”. Much better.
With your three lists – week, month, and someday – go through and make sure every task has a verb at the start.
Seriously, it sounds silly but it’s a lot easier to complete a task that sounds like an action than to complete one that doesn’t. “Exhibition Entry” sounds vague and potentially terrifying. “Fill out the exhibition entry form” sounds a lot more simple. Filling something out? That’s easy!
Everything’s actionable and everything’s small and easy to accomplish?
Great! Now you want to create your today list.
Some people find it easier to create their today list the night before or the morning of, while others find it easier to create an entire week of today lists at the beginning of the week. Play around to decipher what works best for you. When you write your today list, pull the tasks from your week list.
Be reasonable with yourself, even if it means you’re going to get less done than you’d like. Remember, it does you no good if your list is asking the moon and the stars.
We want a useful, purposeful list.
Consider that it may be better to have three things on your list that will definitely get done and are really important than 10 that will just make you feel stressed and later disappointed that you didn’t accomplish them all. If you do finish your tasks at the end of the day and you have extra time, you can choose to reward yourself with free time or to accomplish something from the next day’s list or the week list.
It does help to accomplish everything on your today list. It helps a lot. There’s nothing more motivating, really.
Different tweaks to the system will work for different people, but for me it’s absolutely most effective when I set no more than three tasks for the day and I accomplish all three and then reward myself. For me, this means I never work so hard that I get sulky, but I’m always making steady progress every day.
The last important thing about your to do list is to give yourself time off.
Very few people thrive in constantly-running-around-mode. Most people sort of “break” when they’ve been going strong for too long without a break. For me that can mean a mere 3 hours straight of working to create an urge for me to get up and move around and do something new. But for some it’s days or even weeks of feeling constantly busy before they have to stop.
It doesn’t always mean you need a vacation (I certainly don’t take off to Bali after every 3 hours of work) but it means you need to watch your energy levels and do something for yourself when you feel drained. Read a book, bake some cookies, take a walk, watch awful reality tv, make something in a different medium so there’s no pressure…
Find a few activities that are really relaxing for you and make the time to do them amidst your to do list tasks.
Now what? It can be a little overwhelming to restructure your to do list. So just plan to take your next normal block of work time to focus on writing your master list, someday list, monthly list, and weekly list. Once they’re written, most of the work is done. You just have to pick the things for your daily list each day. Don’t forget to store all your lists somewhere you can easily add to them as new things come up.
Let me know in the comments what you’re knocking off your master list and if you still need help getting the master list right, nab access to my low-cost course The Artist’s Business Plan over here to get your priorities sorted so you always know what should be on the list.