How I Structure My To-Do List

How do you approach to-do lists?

Mine continues to evolve. I feel like the Goldilocks of them – I’m still looking for one that’s just right.

I’ve tried apps – TeuxDeux for simple task management, Todoist for detailed projects. I tried Asana with some team members (but would stop checking it a few weeks in). I’m still somewhat successfully using Trello with Victoria and Lisa for ongoing website work.

I’ve been equally promiscuous on the analog front. I tried bullet journaling, and eventually evolved into my own method. I used a Day Designer for a while – loved the format, disliked lugging it around. I tried to downsize into a May Designs book, but only stuck with that for two weeks.

A few months ago, It occurred to me that my problem wasn’t where I was capturing the list. It had to do with the list itself.

No day looks the same for me, despite my biggest efforts to have a structured work week like Janna. My ongoing task list is only growing, with two businesses to run (and two inboxes to manage). And while I have teams to support me in both businesses, staying in constant communication is key – but I had been doing a poor job of it.

My to-do list problems had everything to do with the lack of structure.

These days, there are only 5 items on my list:

  1. A quick win – a 30-45 minute project that primes my productivity for the day. I do this before tacking Rho Pharma or HOTG work.
  2. Rho Pharmaceuticals
  3. Hitha On The Go
  4. Check in – I like to shoot a quick note to my direct team members, checking in on what I’m working on and to set expectations for the coming week. I try to do this first thing in the morning, before working on my quick win project.
  5. E-mails – self-explanatory. My e-mail time is scheduled for the last hour and half of my workday, along with planning for the next day.

I like to capture these tasks in my notebook (my Silk + Sonder planner, currently) and blocked out in my iCal. I have a master to-do list – quick win projects, Rho Pharma, and the blog – in my Evernote. I’m a stickler for updating this list, usually a few times a day. It’s the only way I won’t forget what I need to do.

I review it daily, usually at the end of the day when I’m planning the following day. If it’s filled with calls or meetings, I schedule smaller projects to work on during my Rho Pharma & HOTG blocks and will divide my e-mail block into smaller session throughout the day. For my ‘hunker down and work’ days, I’ll schedule a 2-hour block to make progress on a bigger project.

Limiting my to-do list to these five buckets has been a game changer. I manage to get everything done without feeling overly drained. It’s helped me prioritize and complete the most important work, while leaving ample time to address any urgent tasks or calls that inevitably come up.

This system has been working for me for the past two months, which have been more chaotic than most (work on our home, appointments for Rho, and both companies in transition).

Fingers crossed it continues to serve me even longer…

Here’s how I stay focused, minimize decision fatigue, and the exercise I do before starting any big project. You can find all my Habit Hacks here.