learn new work skills

Admittedly, I am not the most organized person in the office. If anyone accused me of being organized, I think my co-workers would cry from laughing so hard. But I do try and I’ve started making weekly and daily to-do lists to make sure I complete some major tasks, at least. I’ve been doing it for two weeks now and I won’t lie, it’s been more of a waste of time than a helpful exercise. Considering that the bullet journal trend has been going strong for a while now among truly organized individuals, I thought there had to be some way that even an unorganized mess like me can create and follow an organized list of tasks. I’ll probably never create a beautiful, but practical and easy-to-use list like many others, but I was able to find some really useful tips on making (and actually following) a to-do list. Here’s some advice I found to help you (and me) craft a to-do list that’ll keep you on top of important tasks at work!

Why do to-do lists often fail?
I found and read many articles about making your to-do list actually work and almost all of them mention the psychology that can make or break a your list. I’m not talking about being afraid of a to-do list because of some deep childhood fear of organization; this is all about making it easier to actually follow through on your listed tasks. According to an article on Psychology Today’s website, most to-do lists fail because we’re not specific enough about the actions we need to take to accomplish the goal and to-do lists are full of “missing opportunities to take action.” Besides being stressed by a list than seems too long to finish, if we don’t make truly actionable lists, we’re not going to accomplish anything with that. So, that basically makes it sound like to-do lists are pointless, right? If we don’t know what we need to-do and miss opportunities to-do it by making a list, we should just stop making lists and be satisfied with our chaotic, unorganized work-lives. But knowing what we’re doing wrong is half the battle. So, with this information in mind, I kept searching for ways to improve my to-do lists.

Make different lists for different categories.
Besides being laughably unorganized, I’m also a lifelong procrastinator. I put off a lot of tasks til the very last minute, claiming that the stress and chaos motivates me. That’s not a complete lie; making sure I make a deadline is definitely a good motivator. The truth is that if I write down every task I need to accomplish in a given day or week, the length of the list terrifies me so much that I try to avoid looking directly at it as much as possible. So, why not make a list for different categories? One list will be for blog posts I need to write, another for big projects, a third for something else… This results in shorter, but more organized lists. It’s less scary to those of us who fear failing to complete a list so much we avoid even starting one. It also let’s you see if one category is more involved than another, which can greatly help with the next tip I found.

Prioritize lists and tasks.
This is another great tip from a Lifehack article. Lifehack is a website that is devoted to finding easier and better ways of doing things, whether this is making the perfect scrambled eggs or crafting the most doable to-do list. I trust their advice so when they write that giving your lists and tasks different priority makes it easier to “effectively select what you should work on,” I tend to believe them. So, now that we’ve made different lists for different categories, we should organize the lists and tasks by priority. They suggest breaking it down into four different priority categories: important and urgent; not urgent, but important; not important, but urgent; not important or urgent. This gives me an excuse to come up with a color code system for each priority and find different highlighters to make my lists pretty (this is procrastination, but procrastination with an end goal). You don’t need to-do this. But when you effectively prioritize your lists, it makes staying organized day-to-day simpler.

Pick a time to make your to-do list and, if possible, make your to-do lists at that same time each day.
I try to have a weekly to-do list and then separate, daily to-do lists. This is generally a good idea and seems like it should be a very easy, organized system. It’s not. For me, it’s a disaster. Lots of wasted time and repetition. I have been making my weekly to-do list bright and early each Monday morning before my coffee has had time to properly soak into my system and wake me up. It’s a complete mess. At that time in the morning, I can barely remember what I had for breakfast an hour ago, let alone what I need to accomplish at work. A good piece of advice I’m going to start using is making my to-do lists the night before. For example, on Monday before I leave the office, I should make my Tuesday Daily to-do list. I should be making my weekly to-do list on Friday’s for the upcoming week. When I come in in the morning, or the following week, everything is ready for me! Easy. The benefit of making your lists at the same clock time each day is that it becomes habit and you’re less likely to forget.

In the end, we all have a different organization style (if, unlike me, you are organized) so you can adapt these tips how you like. I’m going to give these a try myself! Not only can we become a little bit more organized, but we can finish our tasks on time and enjoy less stress at the office.