Work at Home Productivity

Making Your To-Do List a Habit

Last week we talked about your To-do list, Coffee and Rocks – fitting in the truly important items so they get done before the less significant items.

Getting things done is a habit, and so is prioritising what is the most important thing to work on first.  When our to-do list is too long, it unintentionally becomes a habit not to finish the list, and then not to finish all the way through something on the list that we’ve started.

There’s also the small matter of what do we work on first.  This one is actually fairly easily answered: What’s most important?  What will have the biggest effect? or, What will bring in money the fastest?  Answer these three questions and you should have a good idea of what you need to be working on first.

Firstly you need to realistically work out how much time you have available that day.  Then grab a blank sheet of paper, and look at your long, overwhelming to-do list.  Ask yourself those three questions until you have enough tasks to fill the time available – preferably with a bit of time left over because projects have an inherent tendency to expand and take more time than we thought.

Then simply start working on the first priority on your list and cross it off when it’s totally completed.  Take a short break and then move onto the next item on your list.  If you’ve estimated your time and tasks realistically, you should have enough time to complete everything on your list.

When everything on your list is fully done, look at your list and allow yourself to feel pride that you completed everything you set out to do.  This is important.  You’re building a habit of getting tasks completed and you need to acknowledge yourself for achieving that.

This is the time that someone generally asks “What about everything else on the list, that’s important too!”  Yes, I agree that it’s important.  Ask yourself this “If you hadn’t set priorities before working, would you have done everything on your list anyway?”  The answer is invariably no, because we never actually complete our list – because it’s too long, doesn’t take into account the time available or what is most important.

By prioritising what is most important, you’re choosing to work on those tasks simply because they are the most important.  When our to-do list is pages long we feel overwhelmed and tend to start work on the most fun items, the easiest items or the fastest items.    These are not necessarily the most important or the one’s that will bring in money the fastest.

Getting back to the habit.  If you follow this process each day – or the night before ready for the next day – then you are setting yourself up to succeed.  Every day that you complete your list and allow yourself to feel that pride in achievement you reinforce the habit, you make it stronger and you increase the chances that you’ll do the same the next day and the next day and the next.

Habits generally take about twenty eight days to become ingrained, and that’s when you’re reinforcing them seven days a week.  Since I don’t recommend working every day, you need to set up some kind of daily reminder to write your day’s priority to-do list.  I use the calendar on my Outlook to throw up a reminder first thing in the morning.  Whatever works for you is good.  A post-it note on your bathroom mirror is fine as long as you see it!

Are you working on what’s most important for you right now?

Melinda Jameson

Melinda is the founder of and started this site to share her best work from home ideas to help other Work At Home Mums become more financially independent and able to spend time with their families.

4 thoughts on “Making Your To-Do List a Habit

  • @ Paul, I had someone ask me that years ago when I was fretting over not doing everything on my list. It stuck with me ever since and I use it a lot with my clients.

  • “If you hadn’t set priorities before working, would you have done everything on your list anyway?”

    Great question to cut down on any compulsive aspects to one’s list taking!

  • @ Carol, I love the ‘too-much-to-do list’! I’ll remember that and use it next time. Lovely!

    And no, I’m not pregnant. If I were ‘twould be a miracle that I’d be very happy about. No freudian slip there, bad wording maybe, but that’s all.

  • This makes a lot of sense. To-do lists are often too-much-to-do lists, and this is a great way to approach them. It’s all about prioritising, as you say, and not pretending that those fun or easy things you might choose first are anything but avoidance for the essentials on the list.

    Melinda, on a funny note: “to throw up a reminder first thing in the morning” sounds like a Freudian slip. Are you pregnant?

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