What I've discovered is that, just as with writing, or gardening, or cleaning my kids' rooms, I need to prep for my list before actually making the working to-do list.
Here's what I mean: with writing, I take notes and write drafts before revising; with gardening, I weed and turn the soil before planting; and with my kids' rooms, I take every toy out of the closet and dump them on the floor before I sort, toss, donate, and organize back into the closet.
I have to do the same thing with my to-do lists.
This sounds a little nutty, because it's just a to-do list, right?
For someone with ADD, this is extremely helpful.
Here's what my pre-list looks like:
A mess, right?
There is just no way to figure out what's most important, which items have deadlines, and they're so jumbled and crowded that I look at them, get overwhelmed, and ignore them. A fat lot of good those lists did me.
But if I approach these messy lists like I did my lecture notes from college, I can see them as brainstorming, or note gathering. The pre-lists are basically a brain dump. You can't let them stay like that! You have to take them and mold them into something workable, something you can glance at to keep you on track. What I'm saying is, rewrite those pre-lists - just like I did with my college lectures - into organized to-do lists.
Get a pretty piece of paper if you have one. A clean sheet, if not. Divide the week into days (I just list for the week days) and give yourself 3-4 tasks that absolutely must happen each day. I make boxes for these items because they're easy to check off. Then go back to your brain dump list and divide those items across the days.
I try to keep my master to-do list down to 3-4 tasks a day because more items will overwhelm me and possibly set me up for failure. 3-4 tasks per day is achievable. If I finish those tasks, I can add 1-2 more (which you will see I did in the example below).
One way to divide up the tasks is to make sure not to do too much of one thing every day. For instance, I hate shopping; however, I needed to hit a bunch of stores yesterday so I thought I would just hit every store on my list. What was I thinking? I started at 10 and ended at 2:30 with barely time to get things together and leave to get my kids from school. I should have hit 2 or 3 stores and had enough time to blog or make phone calls or finish Mother's Day plans. Instead, I felt like Grumpy Cat by the end of the day.
Here's what my revised list looks like now.
Notice I've checked off some items on Friday even though it isn't Friday yet? That's because this isn't a hard and fast list. You can remain flexible. If you feel like knocking out something you put on Friday but it's only Wednesday, I promise it's okay. My kids go to Montessori school and have weekly work plans. It doesn't matter when they get the work finished so long as it's all done by Friday. Consider your list a work plan.
I just ordered this nifty memo set from Zulily.
It already has the days of the week plotted along with an extra pad for notes. You'll need this extra notepad for individual lists for shopping, packing, whatever you need to do in more detail. Don't put your grocery list on the master to-do list! You'll want it on a separate sheet of paper or on a reminder app so you can actually take it, you know, to the grocery.
I hope this to-do list tutorial is useful for you. It seems obvious, but I'm just now implementing this system and it's working for me.