Master Your To Do List, Part 2: Tools & Techniques

If you routinely have a long list of things to do, but you're struggling to stay on top of them, then it's time to learn a few tricks of the trade and some proven techniques.  Finding the right system for how you work is the key to mastering your to do list and getting more done!

If you’ve been a long time reader of my blog, then you know I’m a planner and I have a serious love (ahem, addiction) to planners and notebooks.

On Monday, I introduced you to some basics on how to master your to do list by breaking up your long list of tasks based on the importance of each item (must do’s, need to do’s, and maybe do’s).

That’s a process I’ve been using for years and even though I’ve tried different tactics for using my time more wisely, those categories have always been my starting point.

Today, I want to take things a step further and introduce you to a few different techniques for managing your time so you can check off those various tasks on your to do list.  I will also share a few suggestions for some ‘tools of the trade’ if you’re in need of some organization in this area!

Time Management Techniques

There are a lot of different tactics for approaching your day and getting things done.  This list is certainly not all of the options, but it’s what I’ve tried and what I’ve found works best for me.  

There is no one way that is right for all…we’re all different and we all approach things differently, so if you are struggling to get things done on a regular basis, I encourage you to try a few of these out, tweak it to your liking, and continue exploring other options.  

Once you find a method that is perfect for you, you’ll notice more of your list getting checked off each day!

Technique #1: Plan Ahead

Even though I just said that there is no one right way to effectively manage your time, I would argue that planning ahead is essential for everyone.

If you want to get ahead, you have to plan ahead.

By planning ahead you know in advance what needs to be done so you’re more likely to adjust your time accordingly.  Make it a habit to set time aside each week to plan out your week.

I like to do this on Sunday afternoons, but you may prefer Monday mornings or Sunday evenings.  It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re taking the time to focus in on what you need to accomplish over the next week.

I go into all the details on how I do this in a post I shared earlier this year on how to successfully plan out a week, so if you’re interested in even more details, then be sure to check out that post.

Technique #2: Time Blocking

The idea behind time blocking is that you block off time in your schedule for specific tasks.  For that time period, you focus solely on that one task and nothing else.  

No emails, no multi-tasking, no switching to other projects.

Time blocking aims to minimize distractions by allowing you to fully immerse yourself in a specific task.

A lot of us pride ourselves on being able to multi-task.  But study after study shows that multi-tasking is terrible for your performance.  It reduces your ability to be efficient because our brains work best by focusing on a single task at a time. 

I use this tactic when I work on my blog and website.  I’m terrible about getting distracted with everything else on my computer except what I should be doing (Pinterest, I’m looking right at you!)!

Since I have limited time to work on my website and blog, I have to stay focused and be efficient.  So, I set a timer, turn my phone to ‘do not disturb’, close down all browser windows on my computer and expand what I’m working on to full screen to even block out the clock at the top of my screen. 

Depending on what I’m working on, I’ll use either 15, 30, or 1 hour blocks.  I won’t check email or my phone until I’ve finished at least one hour of work which is also when I’ll move around a bit.  Then, if I have more work to do, I set my timer again and dive back in.  

It always amazes me how much I get done and how much better my work is by using this tactic!

Technique #3: Bullet Journaling

If you are new to Bullet Journaling, this is a method for organizing your to-do list.

While they typically show this method being done in a Moleskin type notebook, you can apply this technique to pretty much any planner or system that works best for you.

While they have an entire system for how to organize a true Bullet Journal, what I love best is the use of symbols to denote the importance, general category (i.e. something to buy/pay vs. a a great idea), and/or status or each task.

You could go crazy with this, but a few examples are using a ‘$’ for something that you have to buy or order, a circle for errands, a square for blog work, and a star for your most important items.  These little symbols help you to quickly see the various types of tasks you have on your list and if you have a few spare minutes, you can quickly see what’s a top item that needs to get done, or perhaps jump online to knock out the item that needs to be ordered.

If you don’t finish a task, instead of rewriting it on your list tomorrow, just use a side pointing arrow to denote it’s incomplete and needs to be pushed.

Once all tasks are completed for a given day (or week, if your planner uses a weekly spread), you simply tear off the corner of the page or fold it down so you know that you don’t need to revisit it! 

I don’t use the full Bullet Journal ‘rules’, but I do like to use the symbols for my tasks in my planner (I take it a step further by also using different colored pens to denote certain categories! Yeah...I'm THAT girl.).  Also, instead of tearing out or folding down page corners, I like to  use a post-it flag to flag the weeks where I still have open tasks.

Tools of the trade

These days there are a TON of options for how to manage your to do list and schedule.  For those that love a paper planner (that would be me!), there are numerous options out there.  

And for those that prefer the digital route, just check out all the various apps out there to see that managing schedules and tasks is a big business!

Option #1: Traditional Planners

If you’re like me, you like to use paper and pen to map out your days.  I love me a good planner and I’ve tried a TON of different ones out there!

I tend to switch back and forth between planners like some do with purses, which is probably not ideal, but I’ve found a few good planners that I enjoy using, so I tend to rotate through them.

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There are way too many planners on the market today for me to go through all of them.  I did a post last fall that goes through some of the more popular ones on the market including the Life Planner by Erin Condren, the Day Designer, the Design Love Planner, and a DIY version.  If you’re interested in any of these, be sure to check out that post!

Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to try out the mini Day Designer, the Get to Work Book (which I’m loving these days!), the newest Design Love Planner (which is what I'm using in the photos in this post!), and several others that have popped up on Kickstarter where I was contacted by the creator to evaluate it.

The point here is that there are MANY options to choose from when it comes to planners, so do some homework to see what might work best for you.

You can always send me an email and tell me your planner needs and I can probably suggest one that would work for you (I’ve had numerous people do this and I’m always thrilled to help folks out and help them find their favorite one!)

Option #2: Regular Notebook

You don’t need a fancy planner, though, to get the job done.  A moleskin notebook or even a $2 composition notebook will work!  

Use it to jot down your to do's for the day, reminders, etc.  You could follow the bullet journal style, a standard list, or group it by must do's, need to do's, and maybe do's.  

Remember, there's no right or wrong way, here!

The goal is to find a system that works for you!

Option #3: Digital Planners

As with traditional planners, there is a plethora of digital apps out there to manage your daily task.  These are just a few of the big players that work really well.

Teux Deux -  Teux Deux is a very simple app for keeping track of your to do list.  Not only do they have an app for your phone, but you can take a peek at your calendar from your computer as well, which is helpful when you’re at work or at your desk!  

Its very simple, clean, and efficient.  This doesn’t manage a calendar for you, so if you’re looking for something that does both, this may not be the best option for you.    

A few things to not, this app looks like it may only be available for iPhones, but I’m not 100% sure on that.  Also, it’s not free…to use this you do have to pay a small monthly fee.

Any.DoAny.Do is a free app that is also aimed at helping you manage your to do list.  Like Teux Deux, you can sync your list across your phone and computer.

It’s available for iPhones and Android phones and I love how you can create sub-tasks and add notifications for anything where you might need a reminder.  They also have a calendar feature which syncs nicely with your task list, so this can pretty much do everything you might need!

Wunderlist - Wunderlist is another great digital task master (it's my favorite digital list keeper right now!).  This one is really handy for families that might want to share lists.  You can even create a grocery list and assign it to your husband :).

This one is also available for iPhones and Android phones.  While you can pay for a higher end version, there is a free version available to get started and see how you like it.

Well…I could go on and on with this topic, but for now, I’m going to wrap this up!  If you would like to see a more detailed post on digital planning apps leave me a comment and let me know!  My mind is starting to ping with ideas, so if that’s something you’d find helpful, please let me know and I’ll make that happen!

Your turn, friends!  Are you a digital planner or a paper planner?  What system do you use to stay on track of task list?  Leave me a comment and let me know!