Three Steps to Writing a To-Do List That You’ll Actually Stick To


So recently, I had the pleasure of inviting Nicole Hatcher of the Corporate Women’s Lounge to share an invaluable workshop. She lays out some killer tips on how to create and tackle to-do lists that work for you rather than against you.

A mother of three, practicing attorney, and a consultant, Nicole understands what it’s like to juggle multiple hats. She knows very well it’s important to not drop the ball on any of these responsibilities. So what’s her secret? How does she keep on top of things?

The problem with to-do lists

We’ve all been there. It’s the start of a new week and you sit down with optimism to write out all your grand plans. But by the end of the week, you’ve barely scratched the surface of your list.

Before you know it, the next week rolls around. And so do last week’s tasks on top of the new. This pattern continues on repeat. Your to-do list spirals out of control.

And with the growth of your snowballing to-do list, so grows your disappointment, discouragement, and negativity.

This is certainly not what you had in mind for a productive lifestyle.

3 steps to writing a to-do list that you’ll actually stick to

What’s the missing ingredient to blasting through your to-do list? Should you chuck that to-do list out the window? There’s no use in a to-do list that isn’t serving you well, right?

Here’s where Nicole comes to the rescue. She shares a three-step process to get out of the mire of inefficiency and into a lifestyle of active productivity. So before you throw out that to-do list, why not take a look at some of Nicole’s advice. You’ll find that with the right attitude and structure, you can format a to-do list you’ll actually stick to!

Step 1: write out who you want to be

Begin your journey towards effective to-do lists by writing out an affirmation of who you want to be.

Using herself as an example, Nicole writes out the following:

“I am a gentle, present parent.”

“I am thorough in my work, I am responsive, and my clients love working with me.”

“I am a kick-ass consultant. I show up for my clients.”

So think about the different hats you wear and think of the person you want to be in those spheres. Write it out as exemplified above and there you have your affirmation.

You can leverage the power of these affirmations by reading them each morning before you start your day. Nicole says they work wonderfully to calibrate her attitude to deal with oncoming tasks of the day.

Step 2: Write a to-do list in four quadrants

Now here’s where we come to writing out the to-do list. To visualize the four quadrants, Nicole uses a large index card – she draws two lines to divide the space on the card into four sections. (As an aside, Nicole is quick to point out that she isn’t the first to uncover the four quadrant system. She’s merely adapted it into a way that works best for her.)

What you put on this card will guide you through your day. Every morning you can sit down with your cup of coffee and come up with a strategy for the day using this method.

Now let’s discuss what each quadrant represents:

Focus. First, we have our focus quadrant. This is where you write the things you will get done. Nicole cautions viewers to list no more than five things to ensure success. To the right of each list item, write the approximate amount of time it will take to get that item done.

Up next. In this quadrant, you’re going to scribble down things you want to get done the next day (but today, if possible.) This quadrant will serve two purposes – first, it lets you gain a preview of the next day. Second, if you breeze through your focus quadrant and find yourself with time to do more, you’ll know exactly what to work on.

The queue. Within this quadrant, you will list what’s happening in your life – projects and commitments on the horizon. It lets you get an overall look at upcoming commitments and deadlines. This quadrant helps you figure out if you need to say no to new opportunities that come your way.

Manage. For those projects in life that you’re overseeing or managing, whether it’s your child’s book report or your team’s progress, you can write them down here. This quadrant will remind you to check up on these tasks that aren’t necessarily something you’re directly working on but still come under your responsibility. Just don’t fall into the trap of being a micromanager!

Step 3: Tying your affirmation and to-do list together

Now here’s the big secret that will help you stick to your to-do list! Incorporate your affirmation into your to-do list, it’s as simple as that.

By viewing your to-do list through the lens of your affirmations, your to-do list isn’t going to be seen as something you have to do. You’ll see it through renewed purpose – your list will be something you need to do or that you want to do so you can be the person you want to be.

Want to be a superhero for your clients? Your to-do list will be a roadmap of what you need to do to be that person.

To-do lists that work for you

In summary, to-do lists that you’ll actually stick to require three things. You need a powerful affirmation, a to-do list divided into manageable chunks, and you need to see that list through the lens of your affirmation.

And the best thing of all? You can adapt Nicole’s system into Asana or other task management apps. Give it a try and see what works best for you. With the right attitude and processes in place, you don’t have to feel overwhelmed.

nicole_hatcherNicole Hatcher is a corporate and securities attorney whose practice and clients are remarkably aligned with her personality: passionate, strategic and rule-oriented.

In between consulting and lawyering in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, you can find her in the East Bay running after her three children and instilling in them (or hoping to) a love of cooking, reading and toy organizing.  flogo_rgb_hex-brc-site-250


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