I wear a whole lot of hats – mom, wife, business owner and writer, to name a few. The nature of being a freelance writer with a lot of deadlines, running two businesses that require constant attention to grow, and parenting two adorable (but always hungry) kids makes for a busy season in life. Even when I simplify and say no to projects and social events, I still just have a lot on my plate.
All the to-dos have overwhelmed me, bogged me down, created anxiety and at times made me want to quit completely. But over time, I’ve learned ways to manage and prioritize it all so I can get a lot done without my to-dos and deadlines taking over my life.
Two important lists get me through my week: a brain-dump of everything I have to do and want to do that week, and daily to-do lists that prioritize what needs to get done each day.
The Brain Dump
My brain dump is a list of everything I can think of that has to get done for work and my personal life that week, along with some things that aren’t urgent but that would be nice to get done. I create this list not intending to get every single item done, but to get it out of my head and on to paper so I know it’s all captured somewhere.
Many of these things may be captured in other spots – client status reports, Asana, email recaps, etc. But there’s something for me about getting all in one spot and on paper before the week begins that makes me feel more on top of things. Plus, the feeling of crossing those items off the big weekly list can’t be beat.
I like to split the brain dump into both work and personal to-dos. For me, my work to-dos often feel more urgent and never-ending. If I prioritize work to-dos, what’s important to me as a woman, wife, mom and homeowner gets pushed to the backburner. This happened for a long time, and it simply didn’t work to live a whole life.
For that reason, I like to brain dump on Saturday or Sunday when I have a most motivation to tackle my list. Then I have some weekend time to get a few things accomplished before going into Monday, especially those personal to-dos.
I use The Edit Effect Weekly To-Do List for my weekly brain dump. The great thing about this list, other than the divided columns for work and personal items, is that it helps me manage how many things I’m putting on my weekly list. I’m the type of person who feels like she can do so many things, but if there isn’t time to get it all done, you’re simply setting yourself up for failure. Use your lists to manage your expectations of yourself.
Once the week’s over, I take items that didn’t get done, and put it on the next week’s list (after admiring how many things I crossed of first, of course).
The Daily To-Do List
My daily to-do list includes the 3-4 things I have to get done that day, along with 2-3 easy wins. These easy wins are typically personal items like making dentist appointment, writing a thank you note or running an errand.
I start my day with those bigger work to-dos I have to get done to feel a sense of accomplishment, and then tackle the smaller items once I feel a little drained from working but still want to feel like I’m accomplishing something.
I used to write so many more items on each daily to-do list because I didn’t have the weekly brain dump. But now that I can see everything in one spot for the week, I can better prioritize each day. A long daily to-do list constantly set me up for failure. Even if I got important things done, I’d look at all the items that weren’t crossed off and feel like I didn’t accomplish enough. It’s so important to use lists for good – they can create more negative feelings and anxiety if not done right.
If I do have things I didn’t accomplish that day (and I always still do have one or two since my days can easily get derailed or I just run out of time) then I move it to the next day. I add to the next day’s list referring to the weekly brain dump to choose what’s most important and what I think is manageable.
My daily to-do lists go in my Simplified Planner. I have been using the Daily Planner, but in 2020 I’m switching to the weekly planner. I think this will work better with my system since I can see the whole week in one spread and there’s less space to write daily to-dos, which will help me prioritize my work and not take too much on.
Using the planner is great because as new items come up during the week, I either add them right to the day I need them to get done in my planner or I put them on my weekly brain dump to be prioritized with everything else. I used to simply add them to my general to-do list which made everything feel urgent – putting it on a specific day reminds me I have time to get it done.
Why I Love Paper Lists
Having the weekly and daily lists help me know that I’m capturing to-dos throughout the week and that everything is getting done. Many of these processes are also happening in digital form, but being a really visual person, I need to have it in front of me on paper so everything I need to do really sinks in. I also celebrate my wins of getting things done so much more when I can physically cross an item off the list.
Do you keep a paper list? Weekly, daily or both?