One of the best things (or maybe the best thing) about working for yourself is setting your own schedule. It is tremendously liberating having a schedule that I dictate and have complete control over. I just love that moment in the morning – I’m barely just awake, eyes still closed, and I do a quick mental rundown of all the things on my agenda that day and I get excited. Really! I love just about every aspect of what I do (of course not all days are sunshine and rainbows), but creating my day-to-day routine keeps me motivated, energetic, and eager to get things done.
Because I wear many hats in this business of mine, I have learned to live by the to do list. I come by it honestly, because I can say without a hint of sarcasm that my mother is a list enthusiast. As a kid, anything I was doing, planning, organizing, going – it had a list a wondrous list. I still think my mom’s favorite part of vacation is getting together her packing list. And while I was young I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was the child of some sort of list-making virtuoso, I have come to accept and thrive on a list every single day.
Initially, my day-to-day to do list was pretty plain and simple; just a regular old steno pad with the date at the top and a list of every single thing (business & home) I wanted to accomplish that day. It did the job well enough, but would inevitably devolve by the time I was ready to call it a day. Unexpected or unforeseen tasks would be scribbled in as other tasks would be crossed out and moved to another day, and most days I’m perfectly okay with and open to shuffling my day around and taking on new things as they come.
But inspecting my jumbled and hacked to do list at the end of every day left me feeling disorganized. Yes, I did complete every scribbled thing that I’ve crossed out, but did any of stuff I added get finished or organized? Usually not. So I’d start the process of translating my mess of notes on a to do list for the next day. And at the end of THAT day, I’d do the same thing. Over and over again. Until I finally realized the madness that was happening in a system that I thought was helping to keep me organized. There had to be a better way! (Said in my best cheesy-late-night-informercial voice…)
And there was. I realized the bulk of my issue was miscalculating the amount of time daily tasks were taking me to complete. When a schedule is as flexible as mine, I sort of just moved from item to item, task to task, finishing one and then delving right into the next, never really cognizant of the exact amount of time I was spending on each task. I had rough estimates in my head (“Oh, that logo mockup should only take me 2 hours…”), but if that 2 hours turned into 3, I’d have no real way to record that information. I’d just get to the end of the day with what’s left of my scribbled to-do list and wonder where the time went and feel deflated at my progress.
So I added two very simple things to my daily to do list that has really changed how I work and organize my day: some columns. A little “Estimated Time” column, and a little “Actual Time” column, with the name of the task sandwiched in between. By quickly jotting down the amount of time I thought a task would take and then how much time it really took me to complete it, I would be able to look at the list at the end of the day and know exactly where all of my time went. And over time, I’m able to more accurately estimate how long different types of tasks actually take to complete, leaving me much more organized in the long term. I am really amazed at the difference it has made!
So I thought I’d whip up a little printable to do list for download that you can use to keep yo’ times in check. It’s pretty plain, but I print so many of these I like to keep the ink usage minimal. I like to use one quarter sheet for the morning, and one for the afternoon, but you can use these any way you’d like.
Download the PDF here! Enjoy!
What are some ways you keep your to do list on track?