How to Make a “To-Do” List to Actually Achieve Your Professional Goals

July 27, 2020
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Time for a little to-do list audit. Grab yours and scan the first five tasks listed. If you don’t have one, then we have a bigger problem—skip the next two paragraphs and dive right into the most effective tool at your fingertips right this very minute!

What’s prioritized at the top of your list? Doing laundry, returning calls or emails, running errands? Chances are your list is a blend of your personal and professional life—what it takes just to stay on top of everything—and not a plan to achieve the longer-term goals you’ve set. 

With the daily responsibilities of adulting—staying on top of work deadlines, being a parent and a spouse, and trying to have a social life—you’re left with a whole lot of chaos and not a lot of time. It’s easy to be sidetracked from your dreams and the “someday” plans that fight for your attention. That’s why I live and die by my daily to-do list—and make sure it’s working for me beyond simply keeping me afloat. 

When I take the time to plan out my day and week, I’m more productive, focused, and proactive. I find more time for personal activities and accomplish goals that actually move my business forward. In my post, “7 Sanity-Saving Tips for Busy Mompreneurs” the tip that seemed to resonate most with readers was to make your To-Do List actually work for you.  Here are my tips on how to do just that.

C’MON GET “APP-Y”

Using an app on your smartphone to manage your to-do list makes things extremely easy and convenient since, let’s be honest, your phone is with you all the time. I love the Wunderlist app, and Evernote, for managing my to-do list because I can keep several running lists of things that need to get done and update them whenever a thought pops into my head.

Plus, I can:

PLAN (AHEAD) TO SUCCEED

Now that you know where you’ll make and keep your list, you can set aside 10-15 minutes in the evening to create your action list. In the morning, we tend to grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and tackle never-ending email, right? But at night, when things are quiet and distractions are at a minimum, you can take some time to focus on how to be most productive the following day. Planning your list at night allows you to get everything out of your head and onto your action list. You’ll sleep better after you’ve cleared your mind and can hit the ground running in the morning.

KEEP IT (CHRONO)LOGICAL

This seems obvious, but as you’re planning your day, be realistic about how long things will actually take, what your absolute “must-do” items for the day are (top of the list and starred!), and how organizing your tasks and errands chronologically and geographically makes the most sense. For example, if you have a lunch meeting that is near a grocery store, plan an extra 15 minutes to run in and save a second time-consuming trip. Make a sub-list of the things you need to get so you can run in and out without forgetting anything. By arranging your day properly, you’ll be amazed at how much more efficient you can be!

EMPLOY THE 3 “Ps”: PROJECTS, PEOPLE, PRIORITIES 

High-performance expert Brendon Burchard stresses the importance of organizing your day by considering the projects, people, and priorities that matter most. Thinking this way is key to really moving your business forward and finally accomplishing your bigger goals.

Here’s how it’s done by category:

Projects

List the top 3-5 projects you have going right now. Include three simple things you need to do to advance these projects, beyond your daily to-dos. Chip away at the bigger goals through smaller, actionable tasks you can tackle each day.

People

Ask yourself, “Who am I waiting on?” or “Who is waiting on me?”  If you need a decision, information, or data to complete your part of the task,  reach out to the people who can give you what you’re waiting on to move forward on your bigger goals. 

Priorities

List the 5-10 urgent things that you absolutely must get accomplished today. List it, do it, cross it off. If it takes less than 5-10 minutes, just do it now. Be specific. A task like “answer email,” or “organize desk,” is too broad and will remain on your list forever. Instead, “return client email re: press plan” or “file papers on desk for 5 minutes” is more specific and attainable. You may not achieve “inbox zero” or organize your whole office, but even answering a few pressing emails or sorting for 5 minutes a day will add up.

GET FIRED UP

Start your day in the right mindset, then dive in! Wake up earlier, even 10-15 minutes can make all the difference. The goal is to eventually wake up a whole hour early, by starting with 10 minutes each day until you’re adjusted. Before you jump into work head first, get in the right mindset: Meditate for 10 minutes. Try apps Calm or Headspace for easy, guided meditations), stretch or exercise, take a shower and drink lots of water. Ask yourself, “What am I most fired-up about today?!” and start from a place of passion and purpose.

Now you know how to use your time to your advantage to really rock your goals! Challenge yourself to see how many spare minutes can you find in your day, and make them count! And tell me, do you have any surefire tips to share about how you organize your to-do list?

About the Author: Jennifer Berson is the president and founder of Jeneration PR, a public relations and social media marketing firm specializing in promoting beauty, baby, and lifestyle brands. Prior to founding Jeneration PR in 2005, Jennifer was a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles. Jennifer has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, Inc., Business Insider, Yahoo!, Entrepreneur Magazine, PR Week, Huffington Post, Fox 11 News, TV Guide Network’s “Hollywood 411,” PR Web and was profiled on Apple.com.  Jennifer was also selected by Babble.com as one of the 10 “Mompreneur’s Who Made it Big!” 

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This story was originally published on April 7, 2016, and has since been updated.

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