How to Stay Focused With a To Do List

Having a list of things that need to be done is an important tool because I have so much that needs to be done I’m apt to forget something if I don’t have it written down.

Unfortunately, since I’m easily distracted, the list can sit there all day long and some days I never get anything completed.  It doesn’t feel good to look at the list at the end of the day and realize that I literally got nothing crossed off.

But… but… I was doing something all day long!  Granted it wasn’t something from the to do list, but I wasn’t just mindlessly watching television or surfing the Internet or laying in bed reading a book. I wish!

Last week in addition to my to do list, I have started a “What I Did With My Day” list.  I have also incorporated this at work, and I am happy to report it has made quite a difference with my time management.

It’s pretty lackadaisical at my job. We don’t punch a time clock, we get half an hour for lunch but no one ever pays attention to how long your lunch actually took.  At least for the most part. Now if you start taking two hour lunches every day, someone is going to notice that. But I could easily get by with a 45 minute to an hour lunch and no one would know or care.

But my work ethic doesn’t like that kind of behavior, and I expect more of myself.  It is sometimes hard to stay on task when others don’t share the same high work ethic but at the same time I feel like a bum when I don’t get my work done and am constantly falling behind on my tasks. No matter if I am overloaded with work or not, I know there are time leaks as I work and it makes me feel bad that I’m not plugging them.

But enough of that.  I’m going to share a scan of my “What Did I Do With My Day” list.  Excuse the scribbling, I didn’t realize I was going to share this with you.

Here’s what my list looked like last Friday.  I got up around 7:30 and milked, but didn’t start tracking until around 9am.

Here are just a few things on my to do list (remember the “to do list” is different from the “What Did I Do With My Day” list):

  1. Write blog post
  2. Go to Wells Fargo and deposit payroll checks
  3. Do Mr. A’s Transaction Privilege Taxes
  4. Clean the kitchen
  5. Do a load of laundry

As you can see, the only things I accomplished on my to do list were to write a blog post, and go to Wells Fargo to do the banking.  I did wash some dishes, but I never did get the kitchen done.  I usually don’t leave the house on Friday but the bank was closed on Veterans Day and I had to deposit the company payroll checks so I had to make a trip into town.  I got sidetracked there because I decided to stop at Walmart, and that took me much longer than I’d anticipated.  So that really ate up a good portion of my day. Other than that, okay, and watching Jerseylicious, I can at least look back on how I spent my day and understand why I didn’t get anything else on my list done.

On a typical day, I’d look at my to do list at the end of the day, with only two things crossed out and I’d be annoyed at myself for having such an unproductive day!

As I mentioned, I have been using this technique at work and I feel like it has really helped me to stay on task quite well.  I have to have a to do list at work, as my boss is in and out of my office throughout the day with “I need this, but don’t worry about it right now. Just when you get around to it.”  If I don’t write it down, chances are I will forget about it, and I hate it when she has to come ask a second time.

I kept catching myself going off track. For example, I’d write down the time, then the task I was going to accomplish.  I’d turn to my computer, and begin the task, then remember about something else and do that.  I’d turn to my keep track list, and find that I hadn’t finished that thing I’d wrote down that I initially had planned to do.  So I’d have to scratch out that thing, and write down the thing that I actually did do. I did really bad on Thursday and got sidetracked a lot, which wasn’t all my fault as one of my coworkers kept stopping by to chat.  I had to write down that I’d started a task several times, only to get interrupted and have to start all over.  That’s okay. This is an exercise to find those time leaks. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally realize that I have more work than one person could complete in an 8 hour day and stop beating myself up for being lazy!

I was surprised to see on the first day that I took 45 minutes for lunch, so I was more alert the next day and got it down to 30 minutes. I also realized I was walking faster to do something, like going to my boss’ office to give her something.  I guess usually I just walk very casually to her office, but I caught myself picking up the pace.

I wondered what would happen if the CEO asked everyone to keep a list of what they’d done all day long – I wondered how much more productive we would become if everyone was more attentive to the time they were spending on various tasks.

Okay, so basically what I do is I write down the time that I start the task, leave room for the finish time, then I write the task on which I”m planning to work.  It’s okay if I don’t complete the intended, but I have to cross it out, and write down what I did complete in its place.

Do you think this idea would help you stay on task better?  Maybe you’re like my boss who has great success with just a to do list to keep her focused and on task?

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7 thoughts on “How to Stay Focused With a To Do List

  1. I really like this idea. I also have “to do” lists that often don’t get done, or take a really long time to complete. If I wrote down what I actually did, I’d feel better about my accomplishments!


  2. I love this idea. I do something similar but only for my business — I hadn’t thought of including everything. I do think it would help productivity, because I know I wouldn’t want to see “wandered aimlessly around the house” written down too often!


  3. I’ve found that making my to-do lists more specific helps more things get crossed off. For example, “clean kitchen” turns into wash dirty dishes, put away clean dishes, sort mail, wipe counters, sweep floor. I might get only three of them done, but then I have 3/5 things crossed off instead of 0/1.


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