Friday, January 25, 2013

Two-Step To-Do List

Do you find yourself at the end of the day having gotten nothing much done? How about when you have a to-do list? Do you then find yourself getting all the easy or small stuff done but not those items you’ve been avoiding all along? I think I have something that might work for you.

Many years ago, I fell in love with Excel – well, actually it was Lotus 1-2-3, Excel’s birth mother – and life hasn’t been the same since. I use Excel for so many things – budgeting, tracking story ideas, record-keeping and during my last job I used it to facilitate projects. Now, I’ve taken the same system I used there and adapted it to my own life.

Here’s what I created first, my to-do list, a spreadsheet with the following columns: priority, task, deadline, requirements and completed. I simply assign a priority (currently from 1 to 4), a short description of what the task is, what’s required (i.e. money, postage, phone #) and then record the date I’ve completed it. I put a string of weekly tasks, like washing clothes, at the bottom of the list separate from the main body, so that I could just copy and paste those in every week and assign priorities.

Now you may think the completion date isn’t really important, especially for items like "clean the shower," but I urge you to get in the habit. Here’s why – the day will come when you can’t remember when you mailed that gift or filed your income taxes or the last time you had your propane tank filled and you will be grateful for the record. Don’t pick and choose either because you cannot anticipate what you will need to know. 

What to do with the completed tasks? That’s easy (and important): first sort your Sheet 1 (which I entitled “Current To-Do”) then cut and paste the completed items to Sheet 2 (Which I named – wait for it – Completed Tasks).  I sort the Completed Tasks sheet periodically by date, but I can search for words to take me right to the task I’m looking for when trying to locate the date I did something.

On Monday I instituted a new Excel spreadsheet, my Daily Schedule. Does this sound like overload? Well, it might be if I was being really good at completing tasks according to their assigned priority or completing every Priority 1 task each day. Guess what? I wasn’t. Why? Well, because I was effectively keep tracking of what I had to do with the To-Do List, but still managing to avoid those things that were a challenge OR I just didn’t want to do.

With the Daily Schedule I divided the day into 15 minute increments and entered some standard items into the morning and evening time periods, leaving me with a reusable schedule by saving it at that point. Then I saved it as the Daily Schedule for 1-21 and scheduled tasks into the leftover time slots. 

The other thing I added to this (off to one side) was a list of how many minutes I wanted to spend each day on various things like Twitter, novel writing, blogging, etc. I found that by adding up the minutes I thought it would take me to do the regular items, chores and the preferred items, I had to work 10 hours a day. This set a fairly realistic goal for me. I think if you add up the approximate minutes it takes you every day just to be a functioning human, you’ll be surprised and more realistic about what time is left for other things – like pursuing your dreams.

I work the to-do list against the daily schedule, copying and pasting items from the to-do to the daily, and so far, it’s working.

I know there are many people who aren’t particularly adept at or comfortable with Excel and would not recommend it to someone for whom it’s a struggle. However, if you use Excel in your life anyway, you might want to give this a try. I expect 2013 to be my best, most effective year ever!


  1. I have my own to do list-- it's called my wife. If not for her I wouldn't get much done. There are days I try to hide but it usually doesn't work. Have a great year, Kathy!

  2. LOL - thank goodness for spouses who keep at you. My late husband is the ENTIRE reason I finally started getting serious about writing. Once he led me into my writing room, told me I could come out when I'd written 10 pages (because I'd had the room for several months without actually writing anything) and in the meantime he made me breakfast and lunch - brought into the room, of course. I'll always be grateful for that push!

  3. I'm with ya, girl. I love excel and now I have a Kindle Fire and just downloaded Microsoft Office and also bought a case with a USB keyboard so now I can have that thing with me all the time attached to my hip... with my ToDo lists and everything! Yup! I agree, 2013 is going to be a very productive year, for both of us! Have a wonderful week!

    1. Linda, thanks for stopping by TWO posts! Sounds you are really ready to go. I could not existed without to-lists. Stuck on a desert island, I'd be scratching them out on palm fronds...LOL

  4. Hi! I use scrap paper and pen for my to do lists. Light, portable, do not break.
    Whatever works. :-)
    Louise Sorensen
    louise3anne twitter