Take a look at your to-do lists from the last few days. How do you feel about how they were organized and what you accomplished? Does simply looking at the length of the list give you a headache?

The to-do list is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it traps the things you have to do in one place. It puts an end to random sticky notes, napkins and the backs of envelopes on which people tend to make ad-hoc lists. Best of all, it puts an end to forgetting.

On the other hand, if your list truly traps everything, the list will tend to be long. We have lots going on in our lives. It’s only when you routinely trap it in one place that you start to realize how much you have.

The problem is that the long list can be demoralizing. At the end of the day, most of the tasks remain undone. If you use a paper planner, re-writing dozens of tasks every day to move them forward is time-consuming. At the end of the next day, the same thing happens. The avalanche begins as tasks are rolled from day to day. Some may give up on the idea of making a to-do list altogether.

Using a paper planner

One simple way around this cycle is to compose a “master list.” Turn to the back of your planner and label a blank page “Master List.” Start listing all of the things you have to do or want to do that do not have particular dates associated with them. Don’t be surprised if the list expands to multiple pages.

When a task comes your way that does not have to be completed in the next few days, add it to the master list. Each week, or each day if you prefer, look at the master list to see which tasks you want to “feed into” your to-do lists for specific days.

The result is that your daily lists will be shorter. You will be placing tasks there that either truly need to happen on that day or that you feel you will have time to accomplish. You experience far less re-writing at the end of the day.

Organizing digitally

One of the advantages of a digital list is that you never have to re-write. Tasks that did not get done yesterday are still on the list for today. However, nobody wants to be confronted with a to-do list for today that is 400 items long.

Give every task a due date. Some of the tasks must or should be done on a certain day.

Generally, these are higher-priority items with a true deadline. But what about all of the tasks that are not time-sensitive and could be done at any time?

That’s where your Master List comes in. Give those tasks a due date of the last day of the month.

As you plan your upcoming week, scroll to the last day of the month to see what items you want to include. By changing the due date, those items jump from the “Master List” to your list for that day.

No more forgetting

With your tasks on your “Master List,” you don’t forget any of the things you decided you want to do (or have to do). It’s all in one place, ready for your review. You also free yourself of feeling like it’s all got to be done today. See if the Master List doesn’t give you more control and peace of mind.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. “Global Gurus Top 30” named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: FrankBuck.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.

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