“I can never get my to-do list all checked off, why bother?!  I’ll just fill up my water bottle and grab a snack.” [5 hours later] “Hell, nothing got done and now I need to start dinner, I guess there’s always tomorrow.”

Tired of this cycle?  Me too, but I adore my lists, they’re everywhere!  Those lists are supposed to create calm and flow when it comes to my work.  My thought process has always been, “If I list it out, I will magically do more, be more productive, and feel accomplished!”  More often than not, that great feeling of calm is replaced with a destructive rage that leads to inaction and lots of TV watching.

One of the many ways to combat this is to set limits on your to-do list.  It doesn’t do you a damn bit of good if all your to-do list does is make you feel crazy.  Which means, if you’re listing everything you need to accomplish in the next 5 years and you’re not doing anything, then my dear – that strategy sucks and you need to stop.

There are hundreds of ways to get yourself more organized and craft manageable to-do lists – here’s my take.  I called it the Daily Checklist, because I fill one out everyday….. ok, most days – especially when I have project deadlines approaching.

Take Back Your To-Do List

Notice there are several different areas – Must Do, Approved Break Activities, Permission To Put Off, & Fear Monster’s Space.  All areas have a very important role in your success and productivity.

Must Do is the space for things that must actually physically happen today because they’re that stinkin’ important.  You also have limited space, which forces you to prioritize the things you’re going to try and accomplish today.  Allow yourself to put things on the list, if you run out of space – STOP.  Finish what’s there, then if you magically have time, do it over again.  Setting limits on what you can/can’t do is what makes this list different – it’s not an endless list, it’s the important tasks.  This can include:
-pay electric bill
-buy bread
-do laundry (out of underwear)
-send out newsletter (because consistency is stupid important!)
-other such necessary things.

This is not where you say
-find cake recipe (for Johnny’s birthday in 3 months)
-clean oven (unless it’s a fire hazard, then get that done)
-go for a jog (UNLESS you actually intend on doing so!)

Approved Break Activities is a space where you jot down what you’re going to do when you actually need a break.  Don’t put down – load of laundry – unless you actually intend on doing so.  If your breaks historically meant you jump on Facebook or play a level of a game on your phone – PUT IT ON THE LIST! Make your breaks effective by making them real and authentic.  Give yourself permission to take a break.  If your days are so packed that you can’t take a break and must do laundry, do so, but think about your priorities and see if you can’t switch some stuff up.

Speaking of giving yourself Permission To Put Off things – this is super powerful, so I need you to pay close attention.  It’s okay, I repeat, it’s okay to put things off.  You’re allowed to call Grandma tomorrow and pull weeds on Sunday.  There are things on your to-do list that are only making you feel guilty.  Consider giving yourself permission to put them off until the priorities/Must Do’s are done.  I’m always amazed at how many thing get done from my Permission list once I let go of my guilt about not accomplishing them.  They typically turn into my break activities on busy weeks.  Just try it.  This might be the most important and freeing area of the full page Daily Checklist.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Fear Monster’s Space.  This is where I can write down anything that’s holding me back – “Holy shit, I am not going to make that deadline if I don’t get over myself.” “What if someone actually sees this and calls me a copycat… I might die.”  Anything can go here and it can be really freeing to have a safe space to freak out and work things out.  Just recognizing it’s the fear monster who’s worrying, not the part of you that knows, without a doubt, that you’re a Rock Star, can be liberating.  And sometimes you can cover it in black marker (rants about loved ones don’t need to be seen by prying eyes… just sayin’).  Jotting it down can help give it (the fears you’re storing) room to breathe without obsessing.  I don’t want to say there’s a time limit on this section, but let it be a freeing space – not a place to obsessively lose time.

Is a full page a bit overwhelming?  Try the half page below (direct download).  It gives you space for Business and Home.  Again, make sure you only list what must happen today and stop when you run out of room.  This format is little more direct and saves you paper.

Half - Daily Checklist

Take action, get the Daily Checklist – use it everyday for a week.  Then, tweak it if necessary.  Just keep in mind the ultimate goal – calm and flow.