Let’s play a little 5 fingers game, I know this is usually reserved as a fun drinking game but, unfortunately, it’s currently a Wednesday morning and all I’m drinking is my third cold coffee of the day because… MOM LIFE.
OK so put up your hand and….put a finger down if your to-do list usually feels never-ending.
Put a finger down if you do create physical to-do lists but somehow often fail to execute them.
Put a finger down if you create work to-do lists but neglect making to-do lists for all the other aspects of your life like your home, parenting, social life, and so on.
Put a finger down if you often feel like you have about 100 tabs open in your brain trying to remember everything you gotta do.
And….put a finger down if you think Ross and Rachel were ON A BREAK.
OK, the last one doesn’t have anything to do with to-do lists I just ran out of ideas and SERIOUSLY THEY WERE NOT ON A BREAK. I’m sorry, I am team not on a break for life. You can’t convince me otherwise.
Back to the point of the video, you’re not alone if you got a lot on your to-do list, and you got a lot swimming around in your brain about what you need to get done but YET seem to fail day after day to prioritize and execute your to-do list – and are left day after day still feeling like you’re swimming in a sea of tasks just sort of grabbing onto whatever life raft you see.
Unfortunately, managing your to-do lists this way likely means the only raft you’re gonna see is Rose’s after the Titanic sank and we all know how Rose feels about sharing room on her raft….also very strongly team THERE WAS ROOM FOR BOTH OF THEM ON THE RAFT. But, I digress.
Now listen, I totally understand and relate to all of these feelings and points I’ve just made about to-do lists. I’m a mom, wife, homeowner, YouTuber, and business owner. I WEAR A LOT OF HATS which means I’ve got a lot of to-dos that need to be taken care of at any given time. And, in 2020 when COVID first hit and everything shut down, I suddenly found myself trying to run my business, maintain my home, be a full-time mom, and still try to find time to eat dinner. And, it took a little trial and error but I finally learned a fairly simple method that has helped me IMMENSELY in tackling my to-do lists in a way that’s manageable, simple and practicable, and most importantly, sustainable. And today, I’m gonna share it with you. Cause I like you guys a lot.
The Key To Tackling Your To-Do List
So my KEY to finally tackling your to-do lists can be broken down into 2 simple steps.
- Brain dumping
That’s it, guys. It’s as simple as that.
It literally has boiled down to JUST those two steps. I actually sat down to plan out this blog post and was like SURELY KALLIE THERE MUST BE ANOTHER STEP, but the truth is there isn’t. And I really wanted there to be because I felt like 3 simple steps just sounded better, but two it is, and honestly, it’s pretty refreshing.
I’ve read a crap ton of books and articles all about productivity and getting things done and managing your to-do list, and wanna know what’ a lot of them are great but kinda complex at the end of the day. Like I don’t need a to-do list for my to-do list, you know? Maybe these methods work for staunch businessmen wearing suits at conference tables, but listen I gotta squeeze in my bookkeeping and video production in between making mac and cheese, pretending I’m gonna put away that laundry that’s been in the hallway for 2 days, and a pediatrician appointment, you know what I’m saying? Gimme the quick down and dirty method.
So that’s what we’ve got my friends, the 2 step method, lemme break it down for you.
STEP ONE: BRAIN DUMPING
Brain dumping is just the act of getting the shit you gotta do, out of your head and onto paper, or into your phone or tablet or Wifi glasses or whatever futuristic device you wanna use.
Sometimes I brain dump on paper just because I find it oddly therapeutic to put pen to paper. But personally, ultimately, all my brain dumping ends up on my phone in the ToDoList App. Again, there’s no right place or way to do it. The point is you have a place where you put down your tasks.
Now, you do need wherever you put down your tasks to be something easily accessible. It’s why I use my phone. Because the thing about to-do lists and tasks, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, is they pop into your brain at any given random time. You’re walking the dog and remember you need to get more flea and tick medicine, you’re making dinner and realize you need to clean out the freezer, you’re responding to an email and remember you needed to send a file to someone else, you’re cleaning up the mac and cheese your kid threw on the floor cause it was “yucky” and you remember something you needed to do for work.
The point is, these tasks pop into our brain at all different times, not just when we conveniently sit down to make to-do lists. So, you need an accessible place to write them down, whenever they come into your head. It’s why I like using my ToDoList App because usually, my phone is somewhere nearby.
Now, the important thing about brain dumping is that it’s just that. You’re just throwing the tasks down onto paper, or into an app. It’s not time to prioritize them or schedule them or manage them. It’s just the act of taking it from your brain and putting it down so it’s somewhere concrete. Because if we know anything about our brain it’s that it’s not always super reliable at remembering every little thought. So, when the thought pops in you write it down, so it’s not lost behind other important facts in your brain.
And that’s all you really need to know about step one, it’s just the simple act of when a thought pops into your head you take it out of your head and write it down, right then and there, in the moment, before it’s lost. It will probably take a few weeks to really adopt this habit, just stick with it and it’ll start to happen more naturally, you think of something you need to do, and you write it down on whatever you’ve decided to use for brain dumping.
STEP TWO: SCHEDULING
OK, so step two is scheduling. And, this is the step where most people’s to-do lists fall apart. The important thing about scheduling, which I think many of us fail to do, is you need to schedule time….to schedule. I know, seems a little ridiculous and repetitive like when we use to wear double popped collars in the early 2000s. But listen, unlike popped collars….some things are worth doing twice.
OK, so yes, you need to schedule time into your time to schedule. You need time, ideally, EVERY DAY, to tend to your to-do list and calendar. And if me saying every day has you a little like deer in headlights, know that this doesn’t need to be a long or time-consuming thing. Typically I spend about 10 minutes daily and then once a week about 30 maybe 45 minutes.
I feel like this is the right time to mention to you that I have a productivity ebook that I’m going to have linked below. It’s a book about productivity for day-to-day life but also includes printables with sheets for all the different things I”m talking about in this video from the brain dump to prioritizing to time blocking.
So what’s this scheduling time look like? Well, it’s a time you sit down, uninterrupted, with your brain dump, and you schedule out your tasks and when you’re going to complete them.
3 Steps To Scheduling
I break my scheduling down into three steps.
- Time Blocks
And in short, that means I decide what’s happening this week. What’s happening each day, and then I time block my day.
Now, again, there isn’t really a right way to do this, I use my ToDoList app but if your brain dump on paper you could do this on a paper calendar, I have used Google Calendar in the past. The point is, it’s time to start taking your brain dump and scheduling out where everything will go.
Now, certainly, we can get hung up here trying to schedule things out, prioritize what to do first, and so on. Typically, when I look at my brain dump the first thing I’ll do is clump like items.
Let’s talk about a few of the tasks I currently have dumped on my list. I have two things that are content writing-related, and I’ll need to be sitting at my computer during my uninterrupted time, AKA not when I’m with my kids. I also have some other computer-related tasks that need to be done in a similar time slot. So I might clump these together. I have a few smaller one-off tasks that can easily be done when multi-tasking, right, I can make this phone call when I’m maybe outside with kids, I could get this UPS return box done when the kids are eating breakfast or whatever, so those and kinda clump together. Then I have some stuff I need to film for YouTube and Instagram. Again, this needs to be uninterrupted quiet time.
So, essentially what I’m doing is creating little task clumps.
Then, it’s time to schedule them out. When are you going to do each of these? Like I said, I look at weekly, daily, then time blocks.
So the first thing I do is decide what needs to happen this week and what can wait, anything that doesn’t need to be tended to THIS WEEK I’ll push out to the next week to get it off my plate so it’s not crowding up my more urgent tasks. Certainly, if I end up having the unexpected time I can move it back up to this week, but in general, I just wanna see what’s gotta get done THIS WEEK so I can work on tackling that.
Then, I’m going to identify the tasks that need to be accomplished today. This is usually a mix of urgency like it’s gotta happen today or else, and task clumping, meaning maybe I’ll do my computer tasks tomorrow and my filming tasks today. I’ll assign my tasks to each day of the week, keeping in mind my task clumps putting like items on the same day.
And finally, I am going to schedule out my day so I know when I’ll be completing each task. This is where I use time blocking. As someone who has to shift from a lot of different hats every day, I need to break my day up into blocks, essentially blocks of times for my different hats. I have blocks of time for computer work, blocks for filming and creative work, I have mom life blocks, blocks for cleaning and home care, and so on.
Usually, I do this last step on paper, it’s just the method that’s always worked for me. I start by writing out my time blocks. This is going to look different for every person, but you want to create some blocks around the natural flow of your day, so I want to give you two examples.
I want to give you one example of a time blocked day when my kids are home with me and I’m doing the mom and business owner dual life to show how I balance that. Then I’ll share an example of a full workday, when my kids would be in daycare, to show you how I’d block my day when it’s all more work-related tasks for those of you who don’t have kids or maybe have full workdays when the kids are out of the house.
Days With My Kids Home
I have my days essentially blocked out between when I have time with them vs when they are asleep, blocking it basically by the different hats I wear so I can shift between them.
I have a work block in the morning before they wake up. Then the sort of morning routine block, outside time block, and lunch, then a creative block for work while they nap, and then basically the end of the day wind down block.
Using my brain dump, I’m going to be scheduling tasks where they make sense.
My first work block I can do some computer work tasks, then the kids are up so most of my block I’m just with them doing mom stuff, but I make little notes to get my morning routine stuff I do every morning done I always empty the dishwasher and switch laundry, we’re gonna all get dressed and ready for the day and somewhere in the block I’ll find 5 minutes to do a 5-minute pick up.
Note it’s not about saying at 7 am I’ll empty the dishwasher and at 8 am I” ll do a tidy, it’s just that these are the things to do during this block.
We have a block of outside time, I can get an errand done during this block, another 5-minute kitchen tidy during lunch.
Then I have another work block so I’ll get to tasks that I can’t do with my kids around, filming, editing, and so on.
And finally, my wind-down block, typically since I start my day early I’m done with any workweek stuff by 3, so just any little things to get to that evening I might jot down but the day is basically done.
When My Kids Are Not Home
I still have my work block before the kids wake up, and then there’s some time between blocks I don’t write it all out but I know I’m getting the kids up and ready and off to school.
Then, I am going to work on blocking my day up into sort of work categories, I have a block I’ll just work on writing tasks, one for content creation, one for deep editing stuff, and then some time to work on house tasks.
Using my brain dump and similarly tasked clumps, I’ll schedule them out in these categories. This way when I sit down to work I know exactly what I’m doing. Between 8-10, I’m working on writing. This is when I’m writing, I’m working diligently until 10 on whatever writing I have to do.
At 10 I get a break from the computer to do some content creation, I plan it this way to give me a break from the screen and get up and move a little because I know this is naturally when I might be in need of a little break.
Then, I’m back to some computer work that requires full attention. Until 3 I have to concentrate on this.
I love time blocks because they keep me motivated. Sometimes I’ll wanna take a break but it sort of keeps me going like, ok you only have 30 more minutes to work on this thing, keep pushing at it until 3 pm.
Finally, I love to give myself a block before I pick up my kids. As a mom, I’ve just learned how much this helps the flow of my day. Often I wanna keep working right up until 4 when I get my kids but I have found how much better the rest of my evening and week flows when I take a little time to tend to house stuff. Again, it’s about blocking my time for the hats I wear and making sure I am getting time for each hat.
So that’s just two quick examples. The reason I like using time blocking ALONG with a sort of master list of my brain dump is I feel like using a brain dump ensures nothing gets forgotten, everything remains on this sort of master to-do list. So if I time block my day and something wasn’t done, it is still on my brain dump so when I go to make tomorrow’s time block I can see it is still there and hasn’t been checked off, so I can make sure to schedule it in again.
A Quick Recap On Getting Your To-Do List Done
Step one, you’re always brain dumping, throughout the day as things pop into your head.
Once a week, you do a bigger plan, deciding what HAS to get done each day.
Each morning (or the night before) you take 5-10 minutes to plan that day. You’ll remove what was completed the day before from your brain dump, and block out your day.
Essentially you keep repeating this every day, brain dumping, and scheduling. If things don’t get done you just move them to the next day that you can, but they aren’t forgotten because they are on the brain dump, and each day you get a little like sort of printout of the flow of your day and exactly when you’ll be focusing on which tasks.