A Better To Do List

In the past two weeks I have been insanely productive. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we had almost two whole weeks off for December vacation. But I think it has more to do with my very detailed to-do lists.

Normally on my to-do lists, I would write down something broad such as “Make propositions poster.” And it would stay there, never to be deleted (I make my to-do lists in a Word document). But after break, I had a bunch of things I hadn’t completed from before break. I decided to break them down into absurdly detailed steps.

For example, Make Propositions poster became:
1. Take poster paper from poster paper drawer.
2. Measure length of poster and divide into 6 sections (heading and each step)
3. Pencil in heading
4. Pencil in each step
5. Find circular object to use for numbering.
6. Choose which color markers to use.
7. Marker in the poster
8. Bring to reading room
9. Hang up poster.

I call it my theory of small chunks. Yes, I just broke one fairly easy thing into 9 steps. But I have to think realistically: Do I have time in my day to sit down and make a poster, bang shazam, done! I don’t.

What I do next is assign when I’ll do each step. Next to step one I’ll write in parentheses (Monday, before school). Next to two (Monday, period 7), Next to three, (Tuesday period 1) and so on until next to step nine it says (Thursday, After school). I can see myself making progress and it’s encouraging. I also have a game plan, so if the poster isn’t done by Monday afternoon, instead of being discouraged, I just think, Yea but I’ll pencil in the heading first period tomorrow.

This theory is very applicable with students, especially the students I work with. They often get overwhelmed by their homework because they have 10 problems to complete! And each problem has 5 steps in it! That’s a lot of work! They’re right. It is a lot of work. But they get overwhelmed because they broadly label it “Complete p. 235 #s 1-10”. Break it down! What steps are easiest? (Labeling paper with name, date, class? Doing numbers 1-3?) When do they have free time? (Write in your agenda next to the assignments when it makes the most sense to work on the problems). Figure out what you really need to do then figure out when you’ll do it. This is especially effective when students have long term projects to complete.

One last thing to make this especially effective is making the list the night before. The night before what I have and have not finished that day is fresh in my head. During that day, I’ll also type in general items that I need to complete the next day. Then at night I go through them (what I haven’t finished and new things that came up to do), prioritize them, and figure out when it is feasible to complete the task. That way when I go into work the next morning (not one hundred percent awake!), I don’t even have to think: It’s all mapped out and I just have to do.

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