To-Do Lists Organize the Unexpected

Working together with checklists, to-do lists make sure you tackle those jobs that don't show up on lists of routine chores.
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The Master To-Do list holds it all, big or small. By putting gotta-do jobs down on paper, it's easy to assign dates and translate them into action.

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

The Master To-Do list holds it all, big or small. By putting gotta-do jobs down on paper, it's easy to assign dates and translate them into action.

If checklists are a road map for the predictable activities of daily life, to-do lists organize the unexpected: one-time chores, extraneous jobs that must be done around the house or ongoing projects. Working together with checklists, they’ll make sure you tackle those jobs that don’t show up on lists of routine chores.

For example, routine kitchen chores — clean refrigerator or scrub the sink — are daily or weekly checklist items. “Install wallpaper border in kitchen” is a to-do item, a single job broken down from a larger goal: “redecorate kitchen.” You’ll use to-do lists to identify these one-timers and schedule them into an organized life, and to break down and schedule bigger projects.

There are two kinds of to-do lists: a running to-do list for daily reference, and a Master To-Do list. The running list sets out a list of high-priority to-do items that must be done in the short term. The master list is the source: it’s the place where you dump, sort, organize and carry out the to-dos.

The Master To-Do List

To start a Master To-Do list, grab a sheet of lined paper and make three columns: assigned date, item, and completed date. Move to the middle column and list every must-do, should-do, want-to-do thought that crosses your mind.

A good Master To-Do list is a mix of goals and aspirations, errands and minutiae. It’s a place to put those “oh yeah!” reminders circling your brain into concrete form. Don’t worry if your list stretches for pages and pages. Better to put down buzzing thoughts on paper, than to carry them around with you. Better still, the Master To-Do list shows progress at a glance. You’ll see what jobs you’ve completed, what tasks you’re working on, and which items remain to be done.

You’ll use the Master To-Do list to make frequent, short running to-do lists. As you add an item to the running to-do list, write the date in the “date assigned” column; when a job is completed, note the completion date. As time passes, you’ll have a record of the good work you’ve accomplished.

Making the Running To-Do List

From the Master To-Do list comes the running to-do list: a short-term list of things to do that is consulted and changed often. Consult it daily along with your checklists to keep on top of goals and must-do jobs.

Making the running to-do list is simple. Check the Master To-Do list, and transfer two to ten “to-do” items to the running list. Some items will be time-sensitive: the “have-to-do” stuff that looms on the horizon. Sweeten the list by adding a few “want-to-do” jobs, those to-do items that forward a goal. As you add items to the running to-do list, note the date assigned on the Master List—and when you complete a job, cross it off the list! Add the list to your Household Notebook, calendar, or personal planner. Together with checklists for routine chores, to-do lists guide efficient day-to-day planning for an organized home.

Daily To-Do Basics: Go, Call, Buy, and What’s for Dinner?

Each day’s to-do list has an internal rhythm that can help you get the work done fast. Most to-do lists set out where you need to go, whom you need to call, what you need to do, a list of things to buy, and what’s for dinner.

Make your to-do list easy to follow. Group items on your list under these headings: Go, Call, Buy, and Do. Review dinner plans in a section labeled “What’s for dinner?” By grouping chores and reminding you about the evening’s dinner plans, your to-do list gives an instant update on the important work of the day.

Time-Saving Tips for Every Day

Time is a democratic asset; everyone is given the same 24 hours each day. Save your precious time with these tips:

Don’t go empty-handed. Whether climbing the stairs, leaving the room, or going outside, take something with you to put away as you go. Trundle newspapers to the recycling bin when you go to the garage, carry a pair of shoes to the closet when you go upstairs, take out a bag of trash when you leave the house.

Use small bits of time to do small jobs. Fold socks during a television commercial. Give the sink a quick wipe-down as you leave the bathroom. Little efforts mount up.

Do chores while you chat. During telephone conversations, look for “busy hands” jobs that can be done while talking. Chop a salad, sort a drawer or return out-of-place items to their homes while you talk with family or friends. A cordless telephone or headset makes it easier to make good use of telephone time.

Double up on errands—or stay out of the store. Never make a special trip to do a single errand; instead, group them together. Visit the dry cleaner nearest the supermarket, or drive through the bank on the way home from work.

Make good use of travel time. Audio books are good companions for a driving commute; use trips to and from school to check in with children. Avoid talking on cell phones while driving, however; the timesaving isn’t worth the safety risk to your family—and to others on the road.

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