The Makings of a Productive To-Do List

There are two kinds of people – ones that make lists and those that don’t (we’ve all heard that saying before, right?)! And I’m definitely a list-person.

As a self-proclaimed list-maker, I think the benefits of creating a To-Do list outweigh the costs. I may be biased here but the only negative I can think of is…the time it may take to jot down your list (but if you’re disciplined about the task, it becomes part of your routine). The advantages, on the other hand, are well worth the time and effort you put into it. Items on your To-Do list are goals – so by simply writing them out, you’re able to easily prioritize, manage your time, set expectations, and hold yourself accountable. I’m all about setting targets and crossing them off once completed (that feeling of scratching an item off the list is so freeing!). There’s a bit of physiology in play when you create To-Do lists; it makes you more focused, productive, and helps reduce stress because you’re in control.

I recommend having 2 To-Do lists: a daily one and a life-long one. Most people make variations of daily To-Dos, whether it is for work or it’s just a grocery list. Items on this list are usually small “must-do-by-today” tasks. However, very few people have built out a life-long To-Do list. This list is home to bolder but realistic goals. You’re allowed to be flexible, but don’t make it your ‘bucket list’ either.

Here are the types of goals you should have in your life-long To-Do list:

1. A few very easily attainable goals – these are activities that you can start and end within 1-6 months. The purpose of having these goals on the list is to quickly achieve them, cross them off, and boost confidence to tackle the rest of the list. (ex. Learn how to swim, volunteer at the local hospital, read a book).

2. A Career goal – be realistic here and start to jot down detailed descriptions of what you want to accomplish. You should have multiple goals with staggered timeframes that lead you to your dream career or contribution. (ex. write long-form content once a month for 6 months, become a contributing writer for a well-known online media company, introduce myself to 1 new person in the industry every week)

3. A Relationship goal – you may feel guilty for adding ‘family time’ on your To-Do list, but let’s face it, we’re all so very busy that we keep pushing back that brunch! Maintaining relationships is essential so think about who is most important to you – family, spouse, college friends, past colleagues – and set up goals to meet with them. (family cruse once a year, weekend getaway with the hubby at least twice a year, host a NYE party)

4. A Health goal – whether you’re already fit or are trying to lose a few pounds, a healthy lifestyle is a must, so write out structured goals to help you take doable steps towards your ideal target. This is similar to career goals, where you have to take yourself on a journey and hit milestones before you leap. (10K steps a day, 5K charity run, eat homemade meals during weekdays)

5. A Passion Project goal – be completely selfish on this one. Find something you have always wanted to do but had far too many excuses not to do it. These goals may sit on your list for a while but just seeing them on paper will motivate you to act. (ex. write a children’s book, backpack around Europe, run the NYC marathon, film a documentary)

6. A Financial goal – “money doesn’t buy you happiness but…wait doesn’t it?” Odds are that in order to accomplish most of your other goals, you’ll be digging deep into your pockets. Activities that proactively help you manage your finances, increase your income, decrease your expenses, become well versed in financial lingo is the focus here. Although “buying a home” or “paying off student debt” may be your ultimate goal, put more effort into researching current money habits and then documenting better routines. (buy coffee 2x/week instead of 5x/week = savings of ~$430/year, increase 401K contribution to 8% for at least 10 years, set up weekly automated transfers of $200 into savings account)

Once you have created your life-long To-Do list, you should revisit it every 6 months. With each revisit, the aim is to cross something off AND add to or edit the list. If you’re seeing that you’re not getting traction on any of your goals, especially the ‘easily attainable’ ones, than it’s time to further drill down your To-Dos (get granular). The key is to make sure that, over time, all your goals are achievable.