Free Yourself of the Tyranny of the To Do List!

You know how we all create “to-do” lists? We wind up with this long list of things to get done. More than we could do in a month, let alone a single day! Tweet: You know how we all create That list is bound to lead to feelings of failure because it just isn’t possible to do all that in one day. Instead, try creating a “Ta-Da!” list. 

Here’s how it works. 

Step One. Make Three Columns and List Everything

Divide a sheet of paper into three columns, or get a free Ta-Da List template here. Head the first column “Have-Ta Do.” This is the list of things that absolutely have got to get done today. The top priorities that, if left undone, will cause big trouble. The next column is “Gonna-Do.” These are the things that eventually must get done. You don’t necessarily want to do them, but you know you eventually need to. Though after a while they might turn into Have-Ta items, they can wait. And now, there’s the “Wanna-Do” column. This is for the things you very much want to do. They might be the things you never seem to have time for. List as many things as you can think of in each column. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do them all in one day!

Step Two: Create a Do-able List

A) The Have-Ta Do List

Look at what you’ve written in each column and really think about it. Of the Have-Ta Do items, which must absolutely get done today?  Which can wait a day or two? Which, if any, can be done by someone else? Pick two — yes, just two —  that you will focus on today, and transfer them to the day’s Ta-Da list.  

Example: Let’s say it’s Monday. My Have-Ta list includes “Prepare for this week’s writing workshop,” and “Prepare for next week’s conference session.” These are definitely today’s priorities. I enter them onto my list. I also put them in my scheduler as appointments, blocking out the needed time. I planning to work in bursts of 45 minutes at a time on each, with 10-15 minute breaks. I already  have two conference calls scheduled that I will work around. 

I may not finish both of these tasks today. If that’s the case, I’ll put them on tomorrow’s Ta-Da list, too. 

The other Have-Ta Do items are very important, but they can wait. I am going to put them, two at a time, on my upcoming Ta-Da lists for the next 4 days.

Finally,  I am going to choose an item or two from my longer Have-ta list that I can ask others, colleagues or family members, to take on. 

B) The Gonna-Do List

Now let’s look at the Gonna-Do list. Are any of those items more time sensitive than others? Can any of them be done alongside other things? Can any of these be delegated to someone else? I will choose 1 or 2 of the Gonna items for today’s Ta-Da list. On upcoming days, other items will move from my longer list to my daily Ta-Da list.

Example: Of the 15 things on my Gonna list, none of them are immediately time sensitive. But, if I don’t do the laundry soon, it’s going to get to be a serious issue, especially since I have to pack to leave for that conference this Sunday. I decide I will do one load of laundry today. That goes on today’s list. Since I work from home, I can get that started before beginning my workshop preparation. I can then finish the laundry-doing steps as breaks from preparing materials and practicing for the session.

C) The Wanna-Do List

So far I have a 3-item Ta-Da list.

  1. Prepare for this week’s workshop.
  2. Prepare for next week’s conference session.
  3. Do one load of laundry.

That adds up to a busy day, because of course there are other things I’ll be taking care of too. Things like checking and responding to messages, and taking care of a couple of errands. The Ta-Da list doesn’t include every single thing I will do today. Instead, it highlights the things I will focus on and make sure to accomplish today.

Step Three: A 4- Item Ta-Da List

With just three items on the list, there’s still room for one more important thing: something from my Wanna-Do list. It reminds me that I deserve a place on my own priority list! Tweet: There’s still room for one more important thing: something from my Wanna-Do list. It reminds me that deserve a place on my own priority list!  Keeping that commitment to myself every day re-fuels me so I can keep on doing all the things that I do for others.

Example: I want to make sure to get some exercise, so I add “Take a 30-minute bike ride” to the day’s Ta-Da list. I enter it in my schedule too. On a busier day, I might choose something that takes just five or ten minutes. On a day when I have a little more time I might spend an hour or more on my “Wanna Do” item. 

There we have it. A do-able, 4-item list. When you complete the items on  it you get that great “TA-DA!” feeling.

What if You Can’t Get Those 4 Things Done?

What if you can’t complete those four items? You are gentle with yourself about this. It happens. The tasks took longer than expected. An emergency call from your child’s school disrupts your plans. A rainstorm stops you from exercising outdoors. You learn that a proposal has to be written and it’s due by next week. Something is making it hard for you to focus, or to get started. There’s no need to let your Inner Critic get all over you for that.

Instead, listen to your Inner Encourager saying, “You tried to get these four things done, but it wasn’t possible. Put the things you couldn’t finish onto tomorrow’s list. If there’s a barrier that’s getting in the way, maybe you could use some help figuring out what it is and what might help you with it. Make sure to take at least a little time for something on your Wanna-Do list, even just 3 minutes of deep, slow breathing!” 

Click here for a free template you can use to create your own Ta-Da list.


Alicia K. Anderson’s creative mind generated this great idea. I have adapted and shared it with her permission. You can read her post about it, Gotta Wanna Oughta, here.

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