Creating Structure in Your Day to Better Manage a Long To-Do List
Have you ever been told, “you can’t pour from an empty cup?”
People have told me this more times than I can count, and while it is true it’s also completely unhelpful. When and how exactly am I supposed to re-fill my cup, when my to-do list is constantly a mile long, and I’ve got three small kids that, while wonderful, always need something from me?!
If you’re always playing catch-up it can feel like there isn’t even time to catch your breath, let alone work towards your long-term goals and dreams. The MakseLife Goal-Setting System and time blocking have completely re-shaped my days and created more space in my life to re-charge and work on my goals.
Last year was my first year using the MakseLife system. At the bottom of my vision board I wrote, “organize what needs to be done, create time, plan for fun.” I carried this mantra with me all year, even more so than my word of the year (“play”) it underpinned all of my goals, it was the overarching theme of what I wanted out of the year and how I planned to get there.
Today, I'm focusing on how adding structure to my day has streamlined my to-do list and life, freeing up more time to work on passion projects, my “big” long-term goals and also to just relax:
I have very little structure naturally built into my day. I have school drop-off and pick-up, which are always at the same time, but most days nothing firm is scheduled in between. On a good week, I have two to three days with just me and an empty house. But even with that time, I constantly felt like it wasn’t enough to get anything substantial done.
I was exhausted and completely drained.
So last year, working through the MäksēLife Compass Assessment (you can try it out for free here), I spent a lot of time thinking about how frantic my days had gotten, all the day-to-day tasks that were consuming me, and how it felt like there should be enough time to do it all. I started to re-organize my to-do lists and my days in a more efficient way to see if I could in fact “create time.”
I started with the first part of my mantra, “organize what needs to be done.” I started by listing out the things I do or need to do every day, every week, every month. It doesn’t need to be a perfect list, there were of course things I forgot, things that hadn’t come up yet, but it was a great place to start.
At the beginning of this inventory process, I thought about my tasks in terms of their area of life, house management, things for the kids, my freelance work, social media, etc. And while those buckets are important for knowing what needs to be done, they don’t tell you anything about how anything will get done. And it turns out that is much more important than the “what” when it comes to streamlining a task list.
Now when I think about my to-do list, I think of the where and the how.
Do I need to leave the house for this?
Is it a phone call?
Something on the computer?
In the kitchen?
The how and where allow me to bucket tasks together regardless of what area of life they're in. It’s easier and quicker for me to sort through all my email and messages at once, regardless of whether it’s personal, work, or social media than to look at each account periodically and separately or attempt to reply to things as soon as they come up.
Another key change for me: Not everything is urgent!
I don’t have to reply to every email immediately, answer every call or request right away and most likely neither do you. Now, unless it’s an absolute emergency, it goes on my to do list, on an app on my phone, in my planner, or I just flag the email. This list allows me to allocate dedicated time to each task in the future without totally throwing my day off course.
My secret weapon...
Whenever I think about the next chunk of time (tomorrow, next week, next month) I start with my calendar.
What are the commitments I have, the things that can’t be moved, the deadlines, the appointments and the days off school? What else do I think will come up during this time period? This gives me a good base-line to work with and allows me to set up my more detailed scheduling (including scheduling passion projects + goals) using my secret weapon: Time Blocking.
Time blocking is the practice of breaking your day into chunks of time and assigning tasks or groups of tasks to each chunk. During that time you only focus on said assigned tasks and nothing else.
The practice of Time Blocking allows me to eliminate distractions and multi-tasking (something I've found actually eats up more time than I had previously realized). My brain appreciates focusing on one task at a time and I get so much more done!
I’ve found that for me a Makselife Daily Goal-Setting Planner works best for this. My to-do list tends to be long and specific, so a daily planner ensures I have enough space when I need it.
Before I started regularly using a daily planner, I tested it out using the MakseLife Daily Sticky Notepad. This is a great way to try out time blocking and daily planning to see how it works for you. It’s also a great way to supplement your planning if, generally speaking, a weekly planner is working well for you but every once in a while you need a little something more.
Occasional procrastination projects aside, tackling my to-do list in efficient chunks and building that structure directly into my planner has absolutely helped me free up more time.
There are some obvious time saver examples here; I try to run all my errands at once and combine them into as few stores/locations as possible, rather than running out for a couple of things multiple times per week. The dry cleaning will be fine waiting at the store an extra day, the library will usually hold your books a little longer if they know you’re coming.
Another huge time saver has been what I like to call a “calendar session,” once a week, at a set time. This is where I handle all non-urgent, non-social phone calls (well visits, haircuts, disputing a bill, etc). I also use this time to schedule weekend or upcoming plans, texting friends, arranging playdates, booking museum tickets, or making dinner reservations online, etc.
I am now constantly looking for little synergies that save a few minutes here and there, like unloading the dishwasher while I make dinner instead of scrolling my phone. Because a few minutes here and there does add up quickly, and I’ve been able to bucket that time saved into larger blocks where I can work on passion projects or even just take a break.
A pedicure feels so much better with my phone face down and my eyes closed instead of glued to my inbox. And so does family time, when I’m not stressed about everything that needs to get done, I am able to enjoy time with the kids and my husband more fully, and they feel and respond to that engagement as well.
I know what’s on my to-do list, I’ve got a plan for how it will get done, and now I’ve got enough time to do it.
How can you incorporate Time Blocking into your planning routine?
Special Thanks to Lindsay from @MyCraftyPlans for contributing today's blog post.
I have avoided time-blocking or “scheduling” my time during my days off with the idea that this would ease my stress. Guess what? It isn’t working! Who knew?
I am going to start slowly and allow myself time to make adjustments that actually work better ot make more sense.
Thank you for this!
I needed to see this today! I’m so happy I read this blog post instead of passing it over. Yes not everything is urgent. I know this but it’s not registering! Thank you
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