Do Lists -
Focus your efforts on the most important
Keeping a To Do List is one of the most
fundamental but important working skills
that people can have. To Do Lists help people
to deliver work reliably, without letting
tasks “slip through the cracks.”
This obviously helps in reducing the stress
of having failed to do something important.
To Do Lists are essential when you need
to carry out a number of different tasks
or different sorts of task, or where you
have made a number of commitments. If you
find that you are often caught out because
you have forgotten to do something, then
you need to keep a To Do List.
While To Do Lists are very simple, they
are also powerful, both as a method of organizing
yourself, and as a way of reducing stress.
Often, problems may seem overwhelming, or
you may have a seemingly huge number of
demands on your time. This may leave you
feeling out of control, and overburdened
with work. Keeping a To Do List guides you
in your approach to work, puts the work
into context, and gives you a starting point
for negotiating deadlines.
Just as importantly, by prioritizing your
To Do List, you can ensure that you focus
on the highest value tasks, helping to ensure
that you deliver the greatest possible value.
Using the Tool:
Creating Your To Do List:
A 'To Do List' is a simple list of the
tasks that you need to carry out, consolidating
all the jobs that you have to do into one
To create a To Do List, write down the
tasks that face you, and if they are large,
break them down into their component elements.
If these still seem large, break them down
again. Do this until you have listed everything
that you have to do, with all tasks shown
as manageable pieces of work.
Make sure that you put all of the tasks
you have to do down on your list, so that
you do not have the stress of trying to
remember tasks that are "buzzing around"
in your memory.
Then Prioritize It...
Once you have created your list, run through
the tasks and allocate priorities from A
(very important) to F (unimportant). Where
you have several tasks of the same priority,
number them in order of priority (for example,
“B2” may be the second most
important B priority task).
Base your assessment of priorities on two
criteria: the urgency of the task and the
importance of the task. Some little tasks
can be urgent and must be done. For example,
paying an electricity bill is a small task,
but if you have reached the payment date,
it is a task that needs to be completed;
otherwise, your power may be cut off! Other
tasks will be important and have a high
value. Use your own judgment to prioritize
Remember, you should consider the results
of your Job
Analysis when prioritizing your To Do
List. Ensure that you are doing all the
important tasks that you should be doing.
If too many tasks have a high priority,
run through the list again and demote the
less important ones. Once you have done
this, rewrite the list in priority order.
To Do Lists are very personal, and
different approaches to them are valid
for different people at different
times, and in different jobs. Paper
lists, for example, are very portable
and easy to change; however, they
are laborious to write out and order.
You may find that you prefer to keep
your list on your PC, perhaps as a
document, spreadsheet, or on To Do
List software. If this suits the way
you work, this will make it easier
to keep the list and sort it into
What To Do If You're Overloaded...
If you have too many tasks to do in too
short a time, then work through the list
and see if there are any tasks that can
be delegated to someone who is not as overloaded
as you may be, and who can help you.
Alternatively, negotiate with affected
people to see it they are prepared to give
more time. You should find that being able
to show your To Do List helps in these negotiations.
"Negotiate" is an overloaded
word, conjuring up images of sophisticated
ploys and subtle gamesmanship. While
this can be true in very important
negotiations with a great deal at
stake, what “negotiate”
normally means is "find a mutually
acceptable solution". This is
easy and is something we do all the
If you know that you are unlikely
to be able to deliver something to
someone by a deadline, let them know
why you cannot do it as early as possible,
and give them a date by which you
expect to deliver. It is usually much
better to do this up front than to
let someone down when they are relying
As you consider your use of time and your
ability to deliver tasks, remember to leave
contingency time for unexpected activities
and for appropriate teamwork.
Your To Do List should now be a sensible,
small-scale plan that you can use to manage
Using Your To Do Lists
Different people use To Do Lists in different
ways, and in different situations: if you
are in a sales-type role, a good way of
motivating yourself is to keep your list
relatively short, and aim to complete it
In an operational role, or if tasks are
large or dependent on too many other people,
it may be better to keep one list and “chip
away” at it. This may mean be that
you carry low priority tasks from one To
Do List to the next. You may not be able
to complete some very low priority tasks
for several months. Only worry about this
if you need to. If you are running up against
a deadline for them, raise their priority.
If you have not used To Do Lists before,
try them: they are one of the keys to being
truly productive and efficient.
To Do Lists are fundamentally important
to efficient work. By using To Do Lists,
you ensure that:
- You remember to complete all necessary
- You tackle the most important jobs first,
and do not waste time on less important
- You do not get stressed by taking on
too many unimportant jobs.
To draw up a To Do List, list all the tasks
you must carry out. Mark the importance
of the task next to it, with a priority
from A (very important) to F (unimportant).
Use your judgment to assess these priorities.
They should be based on a combination of
task importance, urgency, and contribution
to your job objectives.
Then redraft the list into priority order
and work your way through the tasks on your
list in order. By doing this, you will do
the most important jobs first, and will
make the best use of your time.
A hidden benefit of using To Do Lists properly
is that by the end of the day, hopefully
only relatively unimportant and non-urgent
jobs should remain. This makes it much easier
to go home on time with a clear conscience!
article helps you improve planning,
which helps you manage deadline stress...
- To download
this section of Stress.MindTools.Com in
PDF format to use and print at your convenience,
- Read the next article in this series,
which describes how you can use effective
planning to manage deadline stress
- Learn how to get the help you need with
- Want information like this in your In
to our newsletter