How I Increase My Productivity by Using Short, Specific To-Do’s

posted by Andrea | 06/11/2018

As someone who has ALWAYS valued “QUANTITY over QUALITY”, I am a huge advocate for making manageable to-do lists that I faithfully follow each and every day.

However, I know so many people get turned off by to-do lists because they feel overwhelmed or constricted.

Obviously, different personality types handle stress and process their daily lives differently… BUT, I do think there is hope for most people when it comes to making (and following through) with daily to-do lists!

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or constricted by to-do lists, my hope is that making a couple small adjustments in HOW you create your lists might just be the trick you need to jump back on the daily list-making bandwagon!

If not, I hope the tips in today’s post will at least help you think through everything you want to do each day and set more realistic expectations for yourself.

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To start off, I want to share one of MY actual to-do lists from one day last week:

  • Defrost steak and cookie dough
  • (*)Schedule emails and social media posts for VA client
  • (*) Finish online business survey
  • Make grocery list and clip online coupons
  • Cook sausage links for breakfast
  • Visit Farmers Market (8am – 1pm)
  • Library book drop-off
  • Cut down lower branches on hydrangeas
  • (*) Fill yard waste container, empty all trash, and put containers by the curb
  • Take the kids to the thrift store and pick up pizza for lunch
  • Clean basement construction mess (we had just finished putting our laundry area downstairs and had tons of construction debris to clean up!)
  • Wash upstairs windows (4 total)
  • Roast veggies for dinner and season steaks
  • Make cookies (with cookie dough I defrosted that morning)
  • (*) Write the sponsored blog post for June 21
  • (*) Edit 2 posts for VA client
  • Update Recipe page on my website
  • Figure out potential ad issues (my blog was not loading well for readers and I think it was because of the ads)

NOTE: the (*) indicates the item is a “must-do” and would be part of my Top 5 List for the day. 

This list IS basically in order as to how I would ideally like to finish my tasks throughout the day — starting with some online tasks in the morning (I wake up fairly early these days), followed by making sausage for breakfast (to go with muffins and quiche I already had), and running a few errands with the kids (the Farmers market is just down the road from the library).

I did about 45 minutes of yard work while the kids played outside in the morning, and then took them to the local thrift store (a VERY fun outing for them) with the promise of ordering pizza for lunch on the way home (yay for a freebie pizza coupon).

After lunch, we read books, played a few games, and then I put Clara down for a nap. While she was napping, I did the majority of my house work (cleaning the basement, washing windows, cooking, baking, etc.) while Dave played with the kids.

We ate dinner early (around 4:30pm) and then all went back outside together for a bit before we started the bedtime routine.

After the kids were in bed, I tackled the rest of my blog and VA work, as well as the general stuff I always do to get organized for the next day (clean out the dishwasher, make my to-do list, pack any lunches, etc.)

Here’s a post I wrote about how I use my current planner.

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If you’ll notice, almost everything on my list is a shorter, do-able task.

I did not just say “do yard work”… but instead, “cut down lower branches on hydrangeas” and then “fill yard waste container”

I did not just say “work on blogging”… but instead, “write sponsored post for June 21” and “update recipe page”

I did not just say “clean house”… but instead, “wash the 4 upstairs windows” and “clean basement construction mess”

These shorter, do-able tasks are SOOOOOOOO much easier for my brain to comprehend, because I can put a time-frame to them.

I don’t have all day to do yard work, but I know that cutting the branches on the hydrangea and filling the yard waste will only take 30-45 minutes. I also know my kids can easily play outside without my constant supervision for 30-45 minutes while I work on the hydrangeas.

I don’t have all day to work on my website, but I do have 2 hours after the kids are sleeping to devote towards writing a blog post and updating my Recipe page.

I don’t have all day to clean the house, but I do have time to wash 4 windows and clean up the construction mess in the basement while Dave plays with the kids.

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Even though I often have fairly ambitious to-do lists (especially when we’re in the middle of house and yard projects) I almost always finish everything on my list — and I certainly always tackle my Top 5 items.

This is not because I’m extra amazing or because I work myself ragged, but simply because I consciously think through my to-dos every day, break down bigger projects into smaller pieces, estimate roughly how much time those shorter tasks will take, and only put as much on my list as I realistically think I can accomplish (with a few extras just in case I have extra time!)

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I know this process won’t work for everyone, and I know it won’t necessarily be an easy switch if you’re not used to breaking down your tasks into short, specific to-do’s…

BUT I can speak from lots of experience that this method really does work for so many people (myself included!)

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The Summer months are not often the months we think about boosting our productivity and making manageable to-do lists. However, in order for me to enjoy several “lazy summer days”, I need to be very intentional about how I utilize the rest of my time.

If I wake up on time and get a bunch done before the kids wake up, I’m free to go on fun outing with them during the day.

If I plan my day so I have a few shorter yard projects to tackle while the kids play outside (and Clara takes her morning nap), I’m still available to push James on the swing, watch Simon’s cool trampoline tricks, and do sidewalk chalk with Nora while crossing a couple things off my to-do lists.

If I keep house work tasks short and do-able, I can squeeze them in while the kids are eating lunch, while they watch a TV show and have their afternoon snack, while they play with neighbor kids outside, or while Dave takes them in the pool or upstairs to play games.

It is by no-means a perfect system that works 100% of the time, but for the majority of my days, using short, specific to-do’s allows me to accomplish what I NEED to do each day, make time for what I WANT to do each day, and still have plenty of time leftover for unexpected events or extra playing time outside!

What are your to-do list tips and tricks?

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19 comments

  1. Barbi @ OrganizedLivingForBusyMoms

    06/14/2018

    I love using a planner every day. I write in the things I get done. Then, I can go back to see how much time was spent on specific projects. Post it notes are great and I also use them to add more info on things which need to be done during the week. The post it notes can easily be thrown away when the extra short to do items are done. I always use short to dos and long term goals to stay organized.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    sounds like you have a great system!

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  2. Sam

    06/12/2018

    “Work on blogging” “Do Yard Work” this is SO me. I’m very vague with my to-dos and this article helped me realize that when I do break it down in to simpler steps I actually have success. I appreciate you putting words to it as well, because sometimes it almost seems silly to add something as small as “get gas” or “return target t-shirt” to a list rather than “run errands” but that helps with the timeline, otherwise I have no real idea to how long a given to-do is going to take. I definitely will be taking this post to heart.

    This also brought to mind my struggles with studying in college. I would go to the library with the idea that I would “study chemistry.” I would be there for hours, and feel like I got nothing accomplished. By breaking it down to specific tasks, “re-read chapter 4” or “complete 10 practice questions” I could have made so much more of my time and learned the material more quickly too! Great post!

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  3. Annette Silveira

    06/11/2018

    I thought I’d pop on to say that I’m not having a problem so much with slow loading of your page.
    I’m having trouble with the site crashing and having to be reloaded over and over. Maybe that will help you and your team figure out the problem.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    ok thanks for letting me know Annette! This might be helpful 🙂

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  4. Chris K in Wisconsin

    06/11/2018

    I use a to-do list every day. So does my husband. You are right ~ by breaking it down into smaller bits, I find I get a lot more done that I need to get done. Too much generalization like “clean” on a list just never happens. If I list 4 or 5 things specifically I need or want to do that day, it always gets done.

    I am still having problems with loading your blog, also. I, too, thought it was just me. It takes several minutes to load compared with just a few seconds with others. It is always something, isn’t it??

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Chris — we’re STILL working on figuring out the slow loading issues. Hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it soon!

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  5. Kathy

    06/11/2018

    THANK YOU for showing how you break this down. I’ve been making my lists too broad and consequently never finish them.

    ‘Preciate ya 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    no problem — happy to help 🙂

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  6. Bridget

    06/11/2018

    I tend to make a total brain dump of things I would like to get done or that pop in my head. Those are good to write down, but not in a daily to do. The more specific I am, the better. I also started using your idea of writing down the things I got done but that weren’t on my list. It helps me see better what I can realistically accomplish.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, brain dumps are always helpful, but being more specific usually works best for me on a daily basis.

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  7. summer

    06/11/2018

    Good tips as always and yes on loading super slow. My computer is old, but it was never this slow. Beautiful day to be in Michigan!!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    It was an awesome day today — hopefully we figure out the website issues SOON!!!

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  8. fern

    06/11/2018

    Enjoy your thoughts so much, but your blog is still loading extremely slowly for me. I supposed it was my problem until you mentioned it in today’s post.

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    Kristen Reply:

    Me too!

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    Jenny Reply:

    Yes! this has been within the past couple of days.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Fern!!

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  9. Ashley

    06/11/2018

    Love this! With two small children (10 months and 2.5 years) I’ve had to change how I write my to do’s and adjust how much I can realistically get done in a day. I love the idea of being more specific with the tasks so I can squeeze a few more things in through the day.

    And since it’s mentioned in this post, your site still isn’t loading like it used to for me

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Ashley — yes, we are still dealing with a loading issue on my blog and we don’t know what’s causing it!

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