How to Effectively Use A To-Do List

Your To-Do List Will Never Be Finished, So Stop Trying To Get To The End of It I LOVE lists….

to-do list checks

Your To-Do List Will Never Be Finished, So Stop Trying To Get To The End of It

I LOVE lists. I’m not kidding. I have lists EVERYWHERE. A grocery list, a list of yoga and network marketing videos I want to watch, a chore list, a list of business action items. Seriously, the lists are endless. And up until recently, I woke up nearly every day with this intention of getting to the bottom of my lists.

Nearly every morning that wasn’t jam-packed with clients or parenting duties, I would actually believe that the 472 items on my lists would get accomplished. I would make that phone call to the IRS, and while on hold, I would upload the pictures to our art website, return emails, send out invoices for the education consulting business, and download the SSL certificate for the blog. And when I was finished with that phone call, I was convinced that I would watch all of the training videos, finish painting the “Private Party Upstairs” sign for a local business, and write two months of blog posts. Never mind that the phone call with the IRS would take three hours and I have 17 hours worth of videos on my “Watch” list. My days have more than 24 hours in them, don’t yours?


It is no wonder I struggle with the work-life balance. I’m known to scoff at the idea. I am trying to run an established business while building three more. There is no such thing as a work-life balance.

However, as I wrote about a few days ago, my approach to time-management – hell, my understanding of time-management – has shifted completely. It isn’t the goal to get to the bottom of the to-do list. That will never happen. There will always be something that has to be done. You will continue to add to your to-do list, and just like your laundry, IT. WILL. NEVER. BE. DONE.

As I mentioned in Managing Your Time When You Have Nothing But Time, there’s a better way to approach your days. Your time-management starts in the morning. (If you haven’t read this post, read it here, now. It’s important for what I’m about to say.)

Brendon Burchard recommends you start your day with the question:

What THREE things must happen today to help move me forward and “gain momentum” towards my big life goals?

The day after I listened to that podcast, I started my day with that question. And man, was it an eye-opening experience. I quickly realized how to prioritize. It wasn’t: “What am I going to get done today?” which would ultimately lead to me focusing on the quick, five-minute tasks, so I could feel accomplished. My question led me to look at ALL of my lists and choose the things I could get done fast. It allowed me to avoid the items that required more focus from me – you know, the tasks that you know you need to do, but you don’t want to do because either (a) they are mentally draining (balancing the checkbook), or (b) they require 18 different steps (taxes), which, in turn, kept me from progressing on any big goals.

I was treading water.

After a few days of approaching my lists with Burchard’s question, I started to feel that I was avoiding the other items on my to-do list though. I felt as though I was only focusing on my career, and let’s be honest, we all have other things going on in our lives aside from our career.

Cue meltdown.

I was right back to the “but I need to do it all today” mentality. I quickly overwhelmed myself and turned to my journal where I wrote:

“It [Burchard’s technique] is great and all, but I feel like that leaves out my personal stuff – things around the house or other things I’d like to accomplish that I’m putting off. I’m likely overthinking this, but I also feel like I am trying to do too much and I’m getting nowhere on any of the things. Ahhhhh! I completely just derailed myself.”

And then a funny thing happened: I realized, as I closed my journal that afternoon, that I just finished the last task I set out for myself that day. That particular day, I had written: “Journal” on my list of three things I felt I needed to do to gain momentum in my life’s big goals.

It seems like a silly thing to add to a list of things that would help gain momentum – I thought so before I even wrote it on the list – but it would prove to be the thing that propelled me into greater understanding of myself and my day.

Making it Work for ME

Using Burchard’s question as the foundation, I created a strategy that allows me to focus on all of the areas of my life, rather than just my career.

First, I listed out the main areas of my life that are important to me. I call these “buckets”:

  1. Career: This includes my current education business, along with the blog, our art business, and the health coaching business.
  2. Home: This category is strictly about the physical space of our home.
  3. Relationships: Parenting, friendships, family, and significant others all fall under here.
  4. Creativity: Art and writing – both for pleasure and business
  5. Learning: This includes learning for both personal growth and for licensure and business purposes.
  6. Maintenance: This is where all of the “catch-up” items fall under – returning emails and phone calls, paying bills, balancing the checkbook, taxes, etc.

From there, I decided the how often each bucket needed to be the focus – was it once a week? Every day? A few times a week?

Here’s what I decided for myself (your buckets and frequency might be different – this is based entirely on your own life and what you feel is important.):

Every Day




Twice Per Week




Suddenly, the pieces started to fall into place. I realized that every day, I could absolutely devote time to completing nine tasks (three from each bucket). The “home” tasks are often 5-minute tasks that I’ve just been putting off because “there are more important things,” and so that toilet has been running for nearly three months and the air filters haven’t been changed since we moved in.

The “relationship” items are things I should be doing every day anyway but by listing three items every day, I am reminded of their importance and focused on devoting time to cultivating deeper connections with others in my life.

On days when I know I have extra time – weekends, days off – I add in an extra bucket or two.

Lessons Learned

Since implementing this new strategy, I have discovered a number of things:

  1. I have the ability to accomplish far more in a single day in all areas of my life than I think I can.
  • I am focused and energized when I sit down with that list. I don’t allow myself to get pulled into distraction because I know that I only have a few items to check off and it won’t take me long.
  • Every day, there is a sense of accomplishment – even though the larger to-do list still exists and there are things I know I still need to do tomorrow.
  • There is such a thing as work-life balance.

I said it: there is such a thing as work-life balance.

The first day I implemented this new strategy, when I got to the end of the 15 items I set out for myself that day (it was a day off with the house to myself – I added in two buckets), I was able to put my work down and walk away. I didn’t feel like I had to keep going because there are 18 more things on my list. I wasn’t begrudgingly walking away from my computer because my family was waiting outside my office door demanding family time. I was excited to spend time with friends and was able to leave my work and my list at my desk.

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What are your buckets? How often will you focus on each bucket every week?


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