4 Mistakes You’re Making Every Time You Write A To-Do List

During the early discussion stages of my partnership with 3M, they asked about the type of products I envisioned being

“We definitely need to create a To-Do list. I make one every day,” I told them. “If I didn’t make a To-Do list on the regular, I’d never get anything done.”

It’s the truth.

Another cold, hard truth is that most people are absolutely awful at making To-Do lists. Everyone makes the same mistakes when compiling a daily To-Do list. The good news – these mistakes are easily correctable.

Here are the common mistakes people make when compiling a daily To-Do list.

How To Make A To-Do List + 4 Mistakes To Avoid

Putting More Than 4-5 Items On a To-Do List

Quick, how many hours are there in a day?!? For real, did you just Google that? Correct. There are 24 hours in a day. Let’s guesstimate that you spend roughly eight hours sleeping (if you’re lucky). The rest of the day is spent eating, working out, taking care of kids, yadda, yadda, blah, blah and BAM! the day is over. (Throws a pinch of cayenne pepper in your face like Emeril.)

There’s a set number of hours to get shit done, and as much as we’d all love to believe we can do thirty things in one day, but – SURPRISE, HUMANS- we can’t! Life throws us curveballs to distract us, and it’s ten minutes before bed, and there’s not a damn thing marked off your To-Do list.

These hours tick away even faster when a daily To-Do list is filled with projects that require a significant amount of time and focus. And just as the minutes of the day are limited, so too is our ability to focus. Our ability to focus on top-level projects is limited to roughly 4-5 hours (less if you’re ADHD challenged like yours truly).

If item numero uno on your list requires intense focus, locking the kids in the basement, and an IV drip of Americana roast, you’re going to half-ass every other item on your list. That’s if you even get to the rest of the list.

The typical To-Do list should have FOUR OR FIVE TASKS AT THE MOST. If that doesn’t feel like enough, you’re probably incredibly hard on yourself, or the assignments on your list are too damn easy.

This brings me to mistake number #2…

Listing The ‘Yeah, No Sh*t’ Tasks

I love when I first start working with clients on their time management and we discuss crafting their daily To-Do lists. I’ll ask them, “what does your typical daily To-Do list look like?” and they’ll rattle off responsibilities like picking kids up from school, the gym, and daily errands that haven’t been automated. (Who the hell still goes to a bank besides people who work in a bank?!?)

I’m sorry, but if you need to BE REMINDED TO PICK UP YOUR OFFSPRING, then maybe a To-Do list isn’t your issue. Seriously, write those tasks on regular Post-It notes and stick those notes in places where you can see them. How about right on the floor in the spot you’ll be doing push-ups?

To-Do lists are for major action items only.

to-do list mistakes to avoid

Doing Easiest Items First (And Ignoring Your Own Order)

You’re human. I’m human. As humans, it’s in our DNA to want things to be easy. If you’re staring down a To-Do list of tasks, you’re going to gravitate towards completing the simplest task first. You’ve got to knock out an early win!

Wrong. Wrong. Nopitty, nope, nope.

You have a dinner party of 6 guests coming at 6 pm. It’s 5 pm, and you’ve got an hour to prepare the meal and all the side dishes. You want the dinner to be absolutely perfect, so, naturally, you start by setting the table, right? OF COURSE NOT! That’s the easiest thing, though.

Mindlessly, you probably wrote the items on your To-Do list in order of importance. The most critical task is at the top, so stop avoiding the most important thing. It’s the most challenging path to an easier life.

“Doing what’s easy will make your life hard. Doing what’s hard will make your life easy.” – Les Brown

Allowing Yourself All Day To Get Everything Done

Remember that big deal I made earlier regarding 24 hours in a day. You went to Google to verify I was correct, and I told you about the finite amount of time to get as much shit done as possible? Ah, good times.

Anyway, I made the joke that sometimes the day gets away from people, and the next thing they know, it’s bedtime, and they’ve failed to accomplish much.

Well, to be completely honest, the day – and your To-Do list – was doomed to fail long before the sun went down and you slipped into your comfy Peppa Pig pajamas. The longer you put off crossing all the items off your list, the less likely you’ll get them all done.

If I said to you one morning, “you have to do 100 straight push-ups. You have until midnight to do them,” are you going to drop down and get them over with or wait as long as possible and hope I forget?

If you’re not crossing all four or five items off your To-Do list by EOD, you’re either:

  • making the tasks too impossible
  • not giving yourself enough time in the day to focus on each task
  • royally suck at time management

Figure out which of the three is holding you back and fix it. Think about it while you do those push-ups because I HAVE NOT forgotten.

BONUS MISTAKES (because everyone loves feeling worse)

Here are two more minor mistakes people make…

Throwing Old To-Do lists Away

Everything is done on the list. Missions accomplished. You crumple up the paper and yell, “KOBE!” You toss the crumpled ball at the garbage can, and you’re ready to celebrate your success.

Don’t throw old To-Do lists away. Take the old To-Do lists and stuff them in a folder. Hold onto those slips of paper for a little while.

Why?

Here’s an example from my life. Before making my own To-Do Lists with 3M, I wrote all of my daily tasks in a small spiral notebook. One day, on a horrifically boring Zoom call for work, I started leafing back in the notebook. I stumbled upon some great stuff I totally forgot I did. I asked myself, “why don’t I do _____ anymore?”

The common reason is that I totally forgot about the tasks. Other responsibilities pop up, and old stuff just gets tossed aside. Your old To-Do lists might hold the resolution to a problem you’re having right now.

Not Repeating Important Tasks Every Day

There are some items on the To-Do list that need repeating. Every day. These are tasks that lead up to the completion of a bigger goal. There’s a good chance a few sprung to mind. That’s good. Keep those in the back of your head until the end of March.

I’m going to talk more about those daily tasks in a longer article in March, so you should subscribe to my website, so you don’t miss it.

Your To-Do List 2.0

Now that we’ve run your old way of compiling a To-Do list through the wringer, I want you to attack the assembling of the list with a newfound enthusiasm.

I’ve created a FREE PRINTABLE TO-DO LIST TEMPLATE to get you started. It’s a page from one of the custom To-Do list pads I’ve designed with 3M. If you’d like to own an entire pad of your own, get one right here.

If you give any of these ideas a try or have further questions, drop me an email. After you drop and give me 100.

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