January  2018     Edition 137
Critical Thinking Questions to make your To-Do list a better list.

Most people have a To-Do list

… on their smart phone or computer, on paper, as a part of their calendar, or even just a bunch of sticky notes.   Some have multiple To-Do lists; A “today” list; “short” and “long” term lists; “home” and “work” lists; “tactical” and “strategic” lists.  Some make lists for others, a.k.a. “honey do” list, or the “parental” list.  Some even have the “bucket list” which is a list of To-Do’s to accomplish before you die.   Lists get made, but often are out of date.  One reason for that is a misunderstanding of what a To-Do list really is.

What exactly is a “To-Do” list?

  When something goes on your To-Do list, it’s a task that you, or someone else,  concluded needs to be done, i.e. “I need to do this”.    Of course we don’t put everything we need to do on the To-Do list.  I don’t know anyone who puts “brush teeth” on their To-Do list.  So there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of little things, and some big things, you do each day, that are not on the list.  So the To-Do list is really the “In my busy life, these are important things that I need to call out so they don’t get pushed aside”, list.  Just as important, a To-Do list is dynamic.  Your life events change each day, so must your To-Do list. 

Take a look at your current To-do list

.  For each item on your list, ask these questions to really understand what’s on there and make it a better list. 

Why is this To-Do on my To-Do list?

  What’s the impact?  What’s the value?  What are the benefits?  Why is it necessary to accomplish?

How long will this To-Do take to accomplish?

  You must be honest and realistic.  For example; for me, if it’s some repair work in my home, I’ll always quadruple my estimate.

Who is waiting or expecting this to be done?

  How does it affect them?

Is this To-Do time dependent

, and what is the time dependency?   For example; if you’re looking to buy something, and it’s on sale, and you wish to get the item on sale, you need to buy it before the sale ends.  If it’s not time dependent, what time frame should it be done by and why?

Is this To-Do, order dependent?

  Does something have to be done before this can be done, and does this have to be done, before other things on my To-Do list can be done?

Does this To-Do require anyone else

, and if so, do they also have it on their To-Do list?

What would I have to accomplish to be “done”

, i.e. cross it off the list?

Relative to all the other things on my list,

where does this fall as a priority?

The time and order dependencies might affect this.

What would happen if I just cross it off my list and not do it?

Do I need to do it, or is my To-do to find someone else to do it

, and make it part of their To-Do list?


… because you do so many things each day that are not on your to-do list,

EVERY DAY, ask two most important questions when you start your day;

Are there items to add to my To-Do list?

If so, add them.  They might not be urgent, but put them on the list.

Then ask,

What, on my list, MUST be accomplished today?.

  Move these things to a

Today MUST Do To-Do list.

  Don’t put to many things on the Today To-Do list, or you won’t accomplish them, and then the list just becomes a wish list, not a MUST Do list.  It might be simple things like pay the bills, or larger tasks like, “review the project plan”.   Based on the estimates of time to accomplish, only put about one-third of a days worth of “MUSTS” on the Today MUST To-Do list.  You can always add more, but you want to make this list something that you WILL accomplish.

The Takeaway;
  Make sure you understand the value of the things on your To-Do list. Why they are there, what the importance is, what the time and order dependency is, who it affects, and who is involved.  In this way you can prioritize your list.  Most important, look at you list each day, add what you need to, then ask, “What MUST I accomplish today” and make this a “Today MUST To-Do” list, and commit to Do It!   You’ll find yourself more focused about getting things done, and you’ll feel good about crossing those items off the list.  

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