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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

The Perfect To-Do List + Time Management = Success.

If you search through the Apple or Google app directories, you will find dozens, if not hundreds, of options for creating so-called perfect to-do lists.

I like Anylist for grocery lists and shopping lists or keep track of the unending chores and tasks I need to do around the house. For work-related lists, my go-to is Evernote (get a free month with this link). I have Evernote fine-tuned with different notebooks for every part of my work life.

But it doesn’t matter if you use a digital tool or pencil and paper if you don’t understand the fundamentals of the perfect to-do list. For a to-do list to function at its best, you need proper time management along with your to-do list. When the two work hand in hand, your to-do list becomes much more achievable.

Writing the perfect to-do list.

To write the perfect to-do list, you must determine what to put on it and in what order. You must also decide what not to include on your list. If you put too many things on your to-do list, it becomes unmanageable and discouraging. A good to-do list has three sections.

1) Nonnegotiables

Nonnegotiables are things that absolutely have to get done on time. These are priority items such as scheduled appointments or tasks with a fixed deadline. If you don’t get them done promptly, it will be too late.

2) Procrastinatables

Procrastinatables are things that absolutely need to get done, but are not as time-sensitive as nonnegotiables. It would be nice to get them done soon, but if you don’t manage to get to them today, tomorrow or the following day will do fine.

Be careful putting them off; procrastinatables will eventually become nonnegotiables if you don’t get to them. So try not to ignore them for long.

3) Optionables

Optionables are all the projects and tasks that you would like to do, but have no priority as to when, or sometimes if you should do them at all.

Optionables are tricky. You need to figure out how each one aligns with your goals. For example, if there’s a recording of a webinar you missed, but it’s only available for a few days, you need to figure out if watching the recording will help you achieve your goals. If yes, then make the time on your to-do list to watch it. If you determine the webinar doesn’t align with your goals, let it go and forget about it.

Once you have your list of optionables, rank them in descending order of priority and tackle them in that order.

How to tackle your to-do list.

Once you have a to-do list with the three sections mentioned above, it’s time to get to work.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “if you’re tasked with eating two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest frog first.” In other words, look at your to-do list and figure out the biggest and possibly the task you’re dreading the most and get it done first. Not only will you feel good crossing off the biggest and most dreaded task, but it will also make the rest of the list easier to get through.

HINT: Whenever possible, try to complete as many items from your to-do list before checking your email or social media. Email and social media have an uncanny way of disrupting your day and often add to your to-do lists. Avoid to-do list overload by completing a few things before you end up having to add to your list.

Listen to your body clock.

The perfect to-do list composed of nonnegotiables, procrastinatables and optionables is your guide to get through your day. However, the order your list is written in isn’t necessarily the order you need to complete it in.

Tackle your list according to your body clock. If there are certain times when you feel the most creative, use that time to work on the creative projects on your to-do list. When you feel less energetic, such as first thing in the morning or late in the day, tackle the to-do list items that don’t require much brainpower.

To-Do lists and time management

To make the most of your perfect to-do list, you should have a rough idea of how long each item on your list will take and plan your routine accordingly. If it takes you an hour or so each morning fully wake up, choose tasks that fit that time. Don’t start a mundane task that requires three or four hours if it’s going to eat into the more focused time of your day.

Try not to block to-do list items into 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1-hour time blocks as most calendars do. Most tasks are not structured that way. What you think will be a 30-minute phone meeting with a client may only take 8 minutes or could end up being over an hour long. If it finishes early, you have extra time to take on something else from your list. However, if it goes long, you won’t feel stressed for the call eating into the time block of the next task.

Of course, time management and to-do lists are not as cut and dry as this. Brain fog and high creative periods can’t be scheduled, so your days need to be fluid and flexible. Plus, there’s always the unexpected you can’t plan for. The school calling saying your child is sick. Or a client in a panic because their website suddenly went down.

Life can’t be perfect. It would be nice if it were, but that’s unrealistic. But hopefully, by writing the perfect to-do list and taking control of your nonnegotiables, procrastinatables and optionables, you’ll add a bit of peace and order to your daily life.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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