How To Write An Actionable To Do List

To do lists are a big part of my life as I have realsied that I get so much more done is I take the time to plan what I’m doing.  Being self employed it is even more important for me to plan my time and from this plans make an actionable to do list on a weekly, then daily basis. I find writing specific and actionable lists is far more productive and I break things down in to smaller action points. 

I am more of a paper and handwritten person that electronic apps, although I do keep an electric list of things I need to do most days and is quick and easy to tick of the app when I have completed the task and it automatically reappears on my daily list the next time it is due.  I find this invaluable for things like checking broekn links on my blog monthly and it does save me having to schedule the same tasks each month.

This how I settle on my monthly/weekly/daily to do lists:

Brain Dump

I regularily find there is way too much in my head to keep anything straight; it all just spins around and around.  I make it a habit to brain dump all my thoughts and to do’s at least once a week.  I’m not saying all of this scribbling will action come to anything but it certainly help by writing it all down.

I tend to have 3 pieces of paper; work, personal, stressing over rubbish.  Work and personal are pretty obvious but the stressing over rubbish is all the stuff that clogs up my head but frankly I can’t do anything aboutit.  Tt really helps to write in all down then screw the paper up and throw it away.

The pages get messy, I scribble and just get it all out. From here I can see what needs to be done workwise and personally and I prioritise and even eliminate some of these things.  I then make 2 list from the brain dump, listing what really is important, remeber I’ve already thrown away the brain dump of things I can’t change!  I will review these lists at the end of the week and I often find I will eliminate the things that are either no longer important, not worth my time, or are unnecessary. 

Having a few days breathing space really helps to see what is important and what really should have gone on the rubbish brain dump page the first time around.

Get Specific

Once I have reviewed my lists and hopfully crossed off a number of things I get a pair of scissors out and cut out each item that I want to do something about.  I then sort into piles depending on time it will take to complete; under 2 hours, a day, few days, few weeks, over a month and long term.  Long term are classed as things where it will take over 6 months to complete.  Sometimes there are an odd few things that need to be done and these will be put in one pile. 

After putting the items in to piles it is now time to get specific. Which projects will I work on, what larger tasks are there, what simple things are there that I can just sit down and complete with ease? This is especially helpful for work, I know I need to write posts but this is the time I will actually sort out a list of titles with ideas and pick a few for the following weeks.

Action Steps

Once I know what I need to do over the next few weeks plus what I want to do, I start to make my list of things to do.  I will jot down the easy tasks, for example, book dentist appointment but some items may need to be broken down in to more managble steps. 

I am currently working on a online course about goal setting and I have broken this down to an action point for each unit and then scheduled writing a unit in to my schedule.  I have allowed 3 hours per unit for research, writing, editing and any printables related to that unit.  I’m finding that some units haven’t taken anywhere near this time.  But because I have scheduled the units in to my plans, finishing earlier is a bonus and I just go and sit down and relax.  that’s the joys of a good to do list; good planning and time allocation.

By breaking tasks down in to manageble steps it helps me realise exactly what needs to be done and it’s easy to see progress made.  Plus nothing beats crossing off something on your to do list!  By having smaller actionable steps it also makes completing the whole task easier because you’re seeing the bigger picture. Once I get into this routine I could also start to see how certain actions over lapped to other tasks and I was more likely to complete them out of habit.  For me seeing the steps means even if I haven’t completed everything I can check my progress and feel more productive.


Once I have a list of actionable tasks, I can then schedule them in to my planner.  I have changed styles of planners so many times over the years, even designing my own to fit my needs!  I think I’ve also settled on a planner case tokeep everything in.  For many years I have had a personal filofax but I find they aren’t really big enough for work plans but are perfect for personal appointments.

What Has Keeping Actionable To Do List Taught Me?

Actionable to do lists have helped me to plan better.  It has also helped me to allot time i to tasks in a more efficient way, helped me prioritise tasks and helped me to say no to so many things.  That fact alone has been this process worthwhile!

An actionable to do list with timing allocated for each task has also helped with to reduce overwhelm.  For so long I had all these things running around my head and I thought I had to do everything.  Thing was, I didn’t have to do it all and simply realising this has ha such a profound effect on my life.  I actually enjoy scrwing up that piece of paper full of all those things I was covincing myself I HAD to do!

By breaking up the tasks into smaller actionable steps I have been able to see the bigger picrure and also see that everything doesn’t need to be done now.  As long as I am completing the baby steps I am moving forward and that is the most important thing; to move towards where you want to be. I have also managed to actaully free up time to do the things I want to do which is something that has been so needed in my life for quite some time.

Ever since I started creating a plan of actionionable baby steps rather than a running to do list spinning around my head, I’ve been able to get projects done and completed.  I have seen actual progress on a daily basis whereas before nothing actually seemed to get done.  This has also helped my health as I am not stressing constantly about getting things done and I’m actually getting the things that actually need to be done completed.

Do you have an actionable to do list that is helping you achieve what you need and want to do or do you fly by your pants in constant overwhelm?

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