For years I tried to manage all I had to do on one to-do list. I tried prioritizing that list using various methods, all without success.

The problem with having one list is it’s like trying to force a semi-truck to drive down a country lane next to a bicycle. Or force my size 9 feet into dainty size 6 shoes. Some things just don’t fit. Here’s an example of what my list used to look like:

1. Make orthodontist appointment for Robbie
2. Plan Dylan’s birthday party
3. Deposit check
4. Redesign blog
5. Buy dog food
6. Clean the house

These are all normal things a woman might do. So, what was the problem?

The problem is three of those items aren’t simple tasks. Calling the orthodontist’s office takes one step, and it’s done. Boom. Check that baby off the list! But planning a party, redesigning a blog, and clean the house are made up of multiple tasks. To put them on a to-do list is just asking for failure.

Here’s what I’ve learned: cleaning the house isn’t a task. It’s a project. Projects don’t belong on a to-do list. Only single-step tasks belong there.

Once I realized the mistake I’d been making for years, I tossed my to-do list and started fresh.

Then I did something brave. I did a complete inventory of everything I needed to do. It took days to complete. I decided to include immediate needs and everything I’d been putting off. The small and the big all got listed.

Once I was sure I’d captured everything, I sat down and had a good cry. My life was seriously out of control.

Drying my tears, I reviewed the monstrous list and divided it into two categories: one-step tasks and multi-step projects. That was better. But I wasn’t done yet. I looked at all the projects, and realized some of them were urgent and others weren’t. Then I divided that list into current and future projects.

There was one more step. Since every big project is completed one step at a time, I realized I needed to add tasks to each of my projects. So I got some more paper and started to list all the tasks I could think of for each project.

These lists became the foundation of my project management notebook. And yes, I did put it in a three-ring binder. I know I could have created a digital notebook, but there was something about putting it on paper that made it real for me. Although I still had a lot to do, having it all in one place brought relief.

Now, writing my to-do list for the day is like going to a buffet and picking a piece of chicken here and a scoop of mac and cheese there. I look over my master lists and only put on my to-do list the tasks I can realistically accomplish that day. I might pick a simple task, like make an appointment, then pull another task from a project list.

This system revolutionized my approach to getting work done. It also eliminated a few of my reasons for procrastination, which included forgetting things (now they were in my safe place) and feeling overwhelmed when I looked at a big project on my to-do list.

Now my to-do list might have five items on it, rather than 25. Five is much more manageable. And when I finish those five, I can go back for more from my project management list.

Over the years, this system has actually helped me manage my workload so well that I don’t have to create massive master lists anymore. The process helped me realize I’d taken on too much, and I did some serious editing. But when I get overloaded—and it still does happen—I know to go back and create that master list again.

Heavenly Father, thank You for creating order. Help me bring order to my to-do list and manage my workload more efficiently. I want to bring glory to you in every area of my life. In Jesus name, Amen.

Related Resources:
If you need more margin in your life, you might appreciate this recent post on Glynnis’ blog.

Create a master list of everything you need to do – now and in the future. Put it all in one place and then divide it into tasks and projects.

surprising clutter

Glynnis Whitwer

Glynnis Whitwer

Glynnis Whitwer, executive director of communications for Proverbs 31 Ministries, is a regular contributor to Encouragement for Today, the Proverbs 31 email devotional. She is the author of I Used to Be So Organized, When Your Child Hurts, and work@home: A Practical Guide for Women Who Want to Work from Home, and the co-author of Everyday Confetti.

Glynnis, her husband, Tod, and their five young adult children live in Arizona. She blogs regularly at http://www.glynniswhitwer.com.
Glynnis Whitwer

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