How to create the 3 lists that prevent overwhelm

Last week someone in a Facebook group I’m in asked for suggestions and tips on a “to-do list system.” What she was currently doing wasn’t working.

I responded and then realized I’ve never shared this method with you – although I’ve talked about it broad terms before.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I’m reminded that about 4 years ago I did a very informal productivity survey over the phone with some of my business buddies and acquaintances.

When I asked if they had to-do lists I heard the following responses from people who didn’t have one:

  1. When I have time and I’m not really busy, then I keep a to-do list.
  2. When I have a to-do list more seems to get done.

When you’re really busy is exactly when you need a to-do list, because when you have one more gets done.

Yes, when you’re really busy it’s tempting to think “I’m too busy to take time to write a to-do list.” However, the time to create this system for yourself will keep you on task AND save you time.

How will it save you time?

You won’t have to spend 5 minutes (or more) every time one task is finished to mentally go through everything that needs to be done and pick the next item. Only getting to the end of the day to remember that you forgot to do something super important.

And it will prevent what I used to do all the time: you stop doing the current task 5-15 minutes away from it being done because your brain starts thinking about what you need to do next and you move on to that. Now you have a bunch of almost finished tasks hanging around.

So, without further ado, here’s the system I shared:

I have three lists:

  1. Master list – everything you want to get done.
    It’s important to have this list so everything is written down in ONE place.
  2. Week list – what you want to accomplish this week
    This is important to have because you can strategically decide ONCE what projects and tasks you want to complete this week.
  3. Today’s list – what you’ll do today.
    This list is super important because it prevents overwhelm. You’re only looking at today’s list and don’t have to think about everything else you want to do.

When I don’t create these lists I get very overwhelmed because it feels like everything has to be done now and then I do nothing but watch YouTube or play silly games on my phone.

When I am working with these three lists, something amazing happens—I get a lot done and I’m NOT overwhelmed. This happens because I feel like I have a plan in place (because I do) and it will all get done.

So, how do you get started?

If you don’t have a master list, or haven’t done a brain dump recently—this is the time.

Take some time to write down EVERYTHING floating around in your head. Then start to group by project (things that need to be done weekly, monthly, home, website, client, whatever makes sense to you). This becomes your master list.

For your weekly list pick 5 Most Important tasks this week (these are things that if NOTHING else gets done, but these do, you’ll feel like it was a good week). 5 important tasks for the week, and 5 additional tasks. Don’t forget to estimate how long each task will take and write it to the right of the task.

There are two ways I recommend for creating today’s list. Pick the one that will work the best for you:

  • Pick 1 Most important task, 2 important tasks, and 2 additional tasks. These might not line up exactly with the titles on your weekly list, because sometimes priorities change as the week progresses.
  • Look at your calendar and notice how much time you have in the morning and afternoon to complete tasks. From your weekly list pick your tasks for the morning and afternoon. Keep in mind how long you estimated each task would take. Always error on the side of not scheduling enough!

One of the beautiful things about this system is you don’t need an expensive planner. All you need is a notebook or two. I have one binder with my monthly and weekly lists and a small notebook with today’s list.

You can watch the Wednesday Live with Evie I did on this topic here.

What are your questions around this? Maybe you’re wondering how to set this up for yourself? Comment below with your questions.