Yesterday I had an amazing day – I got everything done on my list. Maybe I’m a little touched by the euphoria but in looking back I can see why I got everything done – and any successful day follows this pattern. So if you wonder how you can get everything on your to-do list done – here are the keys:

It all started the night before.

I spent a little time planning my next day. There are any number of ways you can write your to-do list; I like Remember the Milk App, but Jessica, my daughter, likes to have a handwritten list. One of the keys is to find a system that works for you. I like a system that is slightly automated so that my daily, weekly, monthly tasks are assigned an automatic reminder but I can also make daily additions – which is why I like digital.

Two other aspects that we can work on the night before that give good dividends in the morning is to get my clothes ready and to have the house tidy. I’m working on having my kitchen island, dining table, and my desk clear of clutter each night. I would like to sweep my floor in the evening but we are entering the season of bugs which come in at night time, so we have a better start to our day if I sweep in the morning.

When I have put in the effort the night before – then when I wake up I am ready to go. This little motto by Charles Spurgeon is a great motivator: Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began. Starting my day with motivation and purpose is a big winner.


Plan a Realistic To-do List

This next thought really is the game changer: Plan a realistic to do list. The more on our list, the more we are going to leave undone. If our to-do list is unrealistic then it is only realistic to expect we won’t get it done.

  1. Match your to-do with your calendar. Our to-do list is only part of our day – we will have our normal activities and commitments that need to happen as well. We could of course add those to our to-do list, and that may be a realistic step to take, but we must keep our whole day in mind.
  2. Know how long each task will take – When we know how long a task is going to take (or approximately) we can allocate a realistic amount of time to it. Each task takes time and I need to have the time necessary.
  3. Know your priorities – As I look at my calendar and my to-do list I will have to know my priorities because when I see that I’m not going to have enough time to do everything I can reassign some tasks to another day. I want to be able to achieve the most important tasks for today.
  4. Give yourself margin for interruptions and the unexpected. This is a part of being realistic. We must accept the season of life we are in, and the opportunities and interruptions that are unique to that season. When I had little kids I would plan on working (housework, office work, blogging, scrapping) for 15 minutes, and then 15 minutes of focus for the kids. It wouldn’t always be by the clock of course, but I never planned on 30minutes of work done in 30 minutes of time. Don’t cram every minute of you day with a to-do task – we must have margins for life.


Make it a Smart List

And since this is the main key in getting everything done – let me just say this from another perspective. Setting a to-do list is like setting daily goals. We all know that when we set goals we need to set SMART goals. Smart goals is simply an acronym: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound

Specific – write the task, not the project – details
Measureable – each task has a beginning and an end. Know what it means to have the task finished
Achievable – each task needs to be done in the time you’ve allocated – is that realistic? If so it is achievable.
Relevant – each task needs to be a priority for this day, if it’s not, then it’s not relevant for today
Time-bound – know how long you expect each task to take, and make sure you have the time in your day to complete it.

When you go through these steps – and yes, it takes a while to start with – then you will learn to set a realistic to-do list for each day.


Get some Self-Control

The last key is probably the hardest and that is to get everything done we need self control! There is no trick to this – it is hard work. But here are three things that help me with maintaining self-control:

  1. Work with my personal rhythms – I like to get my physical work done before I have a shower and breakfast. Others I know need food first. Some jump out of bed ready to go, others take a while to get started. We need to find what works for us, and as much as possible work with it instead of against it.
  2. Set a timer – remember you’ve already said how much time you think it will take – aim to have it done in that time – or may be even quicker!
  3. Know myself and stay away from distractions until I’m completely done. I’d like to think that I can set the timer for a 5 minute browse on Facebook, but I am really better staying right away until I’m done my tasks for the day.

Another little motto I like to remember is: When we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else. Make sure we are saying yes to the right things for today.

When we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else.

So there you have it – 3 tips for getting everything done:

  • Plan the night before
  • Have a realistic to-do list
  • Have self control

Of course there is no easy way to ensure that we get everything done every day. We will have good days and we will have bad days. There will be some days that we will have to tweak our to-do list as life happens and other days where the interruptions are so big and so important that we just have to let our to-do list slide all together.

Don’t buy the lie just because I got everything done on my to-do list that my house is in complete order – that was never my goal, never my expectation.  I wrote my priorities, and that is what I achieved.  While we have the expectation to have our homes perfect, we will never get it all done.  We must keep our eyes on our priorities for the day.

Another mindset we must change is that a good day is not defined by getting it all done (though the endorphins that are released by all those ticks on our to-do list may make us happy) – we must remember that in all that we do, relationships come first.  Some days that will mean, regardless of our efforts our tasks won’t be done – and it can still be a good day!



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