To-Do Lists and Calendars to the Rescue

1st Mentor Street

Are you the person who tends to procrastinate to work on homework or a project and end up suffering?  Or, are you good with knowing what to do, but you just haven’t developed a good system yet to complete all your competing priorities?

Don’t worry… because 1st Mentor Street is here to give you some ideas to get started. At minimum, our suggestions will help you jump start your own to-do list system and accomplish your goals. Let’s take a step back and start reviewing goals first. 

Start with Small Goals

In another article we spoke about setting goals. Have you started writing them down yet? If you can’t think of any grand goals yet, let’s start with some small ones. How about 

  • being able to do 30 push-ups in six months – when you can only do 3 right now 
  • drinking 8 cups of water daily in three months – when you only drink 4 cups on average 
  • reading 1 book before Christmas – when you have never really finished a book
  • calling one friend each week – when you only texts and can’t remember the last time you actually called another person besides your parents
  • going to bed 15 minutes earlier each week – so midnight turns into 11:45pm in week 1 and becomes 11pm in a month and 10pm in two months
  • limiting your time on social media to 30 minutes each day – when you tend to browse for over four hours 

But of course, don’t ignore your more ambitious goals, dream big! No matter how daunting your goal seems at the moment, getting started and making small and continuous progress is the way to reach your finish line. Let us give you the next tool to start the action, making weekly or daily do lists.

Track Your Progress

I have learned from experience that it’s always better to visually see my to-do list versus only having them in my head only. First, it’s very easy to forget something important because life is full of distractions. Secondly, being able to go down the list and check it off, highlight or cross out each completed task is a very rewarding feeling and gives you a sense of accomplishments. So, I highly recommend writing and tracking your progress.

Now there are different ways to document your to do list, leveraging technology and using some sort of note book or even a calendar. Although I love what the various apps and software have to offer, I still prefer a good old-fashioned yearly calendar that has monthly, weekly and daily sections. It gives me the option to easily flip back and forth and the ability to see the big picture (monthly sections) or details (daily section) as needed. 

I love being able to have that option and cross things off when completed. Nowadays, I even use that calendar to write down important notes on certain conversations or research I have done, results of my activities and ideas that pop into mind. All these notes come in handy at the end of the year when you want to review what you have accomplished.

But unfortunately, it tends to be a bit heavier and inconvenient to carry with you all the time. So, for general reminders of to do items and tracking purposes, I use a monthly planner, but also leverage my smart phone a lot for time specific events or tasks. 

The beauty of technology is that you can “set it and forget it”. I appreciate not having to remember everything. So, having my phone remind me that on Tuesday at 2pm I have a doctor’s appointment and on Friday is my friend Tina’s birthday is a true blessing.

I tried different apps and even the Reminder function on my iPhone, but at the end, the calendar is still my personal favorite. It offers monthly, weekly and daily options, which I like. It allows me to block off time for specific days because after all, tasks are done generally around the same time. It also allows me the efficiency of setting up recurring events, which is a life saver. So, try it out and go with what works best for your style. Like I said, you can have a combination of your phone and physical calendar as well. 

Timing to Set To-Do List

As far as timing is concerned, I tend to take my Monday mornings (but I would also suggest Sunday evenings if that works better for you) to think about the week ahead of me. What events are coming up, such as tests or important meetings? Do any bills need to get paid? What errands do I have to run? What goals do I have for this week to feel accomplished and productive? This helps trigger to do items that are time bound. 

Next, I think about what I would like to accomplish for this week to move my work forward and accomplish certain goals. I check back daily to refresh my memory, add new items and check off what’s completed. Monday morning to do list time has almost become a ritual I look forward to since I go to my favorite local coffee shop, treat myself to a warm drink and yummy breakfast and start the week off in a productive way. What can you do to connect the process of setting a to do list with an activity or environment that you enjoy?

Now, when it comes to adding a specific meeting or appointment time, I don’t wait until Mondays. I put it on my digital calendar immediately. Otherwise, I just simply forget. My general rule of thumb is, if it takes less than 2 minutes, I would do it right away. Blocking a specific time on my calendar is one of those tasks that benefit from being completed immediately. If a meeting is not on my calendar, that event or activity is not happening.

Note Taking and To-Do List at Work or School

When I used to work for a large company, I used to have a unique to-do list for work, which was just on a simple notebook – let’s call it note book “TD”. I would add the date to the left and start writing things that need to be completed. Each completed item would then be crossed out. If a page is full with 90% completed items and 10% outstanding ones, I would highlight the outstanding ones or simply transfer them to a new page. Remember, that notebook is for to-do lists only. Don’t mix it up with other notes. 

I am a note taker. Especially when attending meetings, I would bring notebook “N” everywhere.  I would write down important notes and reminders from the meeting starting with the first page. If a to-do item emerges, I would flip to the last page of the notebook and add it to my to-do list section. This is helpful because I can quickly see all the things that need my attention after the meeting, which used to get lost in my sea of notes from the front pages. Alternatively, I would add those items needing further attention to note book “TD”. 

Another method I apply is that I would keep the to do items together with the other content, but add a special mark to the side that easily sticks out when I review my notes again after the meeting. That sign was generally a star with a big circle around it. It’s up to you what you prefer, but find a way that works well for you, highlighting, circling, making a huge star etc. You can do the same with notes you take for school. 

Today, I even started teaching this method of creating to-do lists to my kids. When it comes to school, they have a school calendar also with monthly, weekly and daily sections, where I ask them to write down important events ahead of time, such as holidays or no school days, and make a note of tests and project due dates once they are aware of it. I ask them to write down homework for the week and the day to be crossed out when completed. 

For personal events, we use Google calendar since everyone has access to it. I add my family members’ emails in the Invitees sections. That way, they are in the loop of doctor appointments, extracurricular classes or parties we have been invited to on a certain day. After all, they need to start planning. 

Break Down Larger Projects 

When it comes to project planning and project management, this tool comes in specifically handy as most people tend to procrastinate and wait until the very last day to start. As mentioned earlier, with projects we start with the end in mind, the due date and final product. Then, we work backwards and split it into smaller steps or milestones.

If there are five steps to complete the project, when should step 1 be completed? What is it specifically? What about step 2, 3, 4 and 5? Breaking it down like this helps it feel not too overwhelming and to move the project along within your set time frame. 

For my kids, depending on their age, this is done in a simpler version, but could get more elaborate once they are older and projects become more complicated. I still apply this process myself for big projects I have. 

Does all of this sound a bit overwhelming to you? Don’t let it be! I encourage you to try it out and tweak what you don’t like. The important fact is that you find a way that works best for your own style. It could be as simple, complicated or fancy as you prefer. Have some fun with it! Remember, those who write things down and continuously move forward will end up winning and achieving their goals.

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