Yes, I believe that two lists will be a stress reliever for you. Yes, it will take a little bit more time each day, maybe five to ten minutes. If you are not using a process like the one described below, you may want to consider it.

Your brain is best used for problem solving, building relationships, and other brainiac functions. Your brain is not the best way for storing lists of information, such as your to-do list.

My goal is to show you why two to-do lists help you stay on track, be focused, get the important things done and most importantly provide you more personal satisfaction.

Those who do not use To-do lists at all. Really.

As a time behaviorist who helps individuals get the right things done to be less stressed in their lives, I have seen many types of to-do lists and methods to track what needs to be done.

I was amazed as to how many people do not write out any to-do list. Instead, their process is to keep it all in their heads.

I asked, “How is that process working for you? Do you sometimes forget things to do?”
Reply: “All the time.”

I asked, “Do you forget the really important things that needed to get done today?”
Reply: “Yes.”

I asked, “ Why don’t you use a list?”
Reply: “I like to keep it in my head and don’t want to be that structured. I don’t have time to write out and keep up with a list.”

I asked, “Do others around you get aggravated because you don’t keep a list.”
Reply: “Yes. All the time.”

(cue in picture of Lauren pulling out her hair!)

The Powerful Two To-Do list process

Some people love it using a to-do list, finding comfort in its structure. Some do it and hate it. Some can’t live without it.

No matter where you fall on the “Loving or Hating the To-Do List Scale”, I have two suggestions to organize your information and maximize your results.

1. Think of the To Do list merely as a capture tool.

As a tool, it provides you many benefits which are explained here. It doesn’t really matter as to whether it is electronic or paper. The power of the to-do list is to capture the information on whatever format you are most comfortable and will consistently use.

2. Consider creating two lists: A Master List and the Today List.

The purpose of the Master List is the “brain dump” of all those things to do that are rattling around in your head. The things I am referring to are all the tasks that you know need to be done today, tomorrow, this week, next week, this year and someday. When we get these thoughts out of our head and onto paper, it will be mentally freeing.

It also will provide a realistic view of what truly can be accomplished or may need to be delegated or deleted.

Think of the process as clearing out some mental clutter. Good clutter, but clutter nonetheless. Here’s the secret. Add in three columns to your to-do list page for a total of four columns.

The first column is the key words of that the task you need to do.

The second column is how long you think it will take you to complete the task in minutes.

Yes, you are merely guessing at how long. You may know exactly if it is a task you do repeatedly. I will assure you that you will become more skilled on judging how long it takes to complete a task. advance about the time.

The third column identifies how important this task is.

For business owners, I have them use this column to add in the initials “RP”, a Revenue Producing task.

The fourth column is the known deadline date for this task.

The purpose of the Today list is to select from the Master List your best guess of what you accomplish in a single day and considering what other commitments are made for that day.

Here’s what usually happens for those who just have one list. They start out the day looking at their calendar and to-do list trying to figure out what needs to be accomplished that day. They look at the list and get overwhelmed by all the tasks that are unfinished and/or need attention. At this point, it is common to work on the easy tasks that are not priority. Thus, this is how we feel we are “busy”, but we might be busy on the tasks that do not generate results.

Maximizing results

A more effective way is to get more done, maximize results and feel more satisfied is to create the Master List, knowing you will be unable to complete all the tasks on that list in one day.

First, you look at your calendar to identify the immovable commitments such as meetings or conference calls that are already scheduled for that day.

Next, you consider how many open hours you have available that day to select items from the Master To-Do list.

Next, you take 5 minutes to create the Today to-do list.

For example, you have a meeting from 9am – 10am and an open slot of time from 10am – 11am. Your next meeting is from 11am – 11:30am. You have another “white space” from 11:30am until noon. How do you decide what to work on from 10-11am and then again from 11:30-noon?

If you begin your morning with a 5-10 minute planning period, you can intentionally set up your most productive day. You look at your Master To-Do List that has tasks with estimated. You create your Today To-Do List.

What am I going to work on today?

What factors do I need to be aware of on my productivity recipe? Your productivity recipe is when is the best time for you to work on tasks. If you do your best analytical work in morning (i.e. review reports, create reports, etc), then it would NOT make sense to work on that type of task in the afternoon. It will take you way less time if you match your best times to fit that specific type of task.

Some examples of maximizing results in the least amount of time

A client of mine, Ben, had to do a report every Monday for upper management that was due at 5pm. If he blocked out the time in the morning and eliminated all distractions, he could complete the report in 45 minutes. If he did it in the afternoon when his mind was not as fresh, it would take time 1-2 hours to complete.

Another client of mine wrote a weekly blog. Her most creative time was late at night. If she tried to write the blog during the day, she struggled. When she consistently block time in the evenings after the kids went to bed, she wrote effortlessly.

Aren’t we striving for “effortlessly”

When we take on our to-do list each day, aren’t we wanting to do the tasks as effortlessly as possible? Most of us enjoy that satisfaction of checking off the box and moving on to the next item. Working on the important items and not being overwhelmed on a daily basis adds up to a more satisfied life.

Try my suggested process for at least one week. You will find it is a way to:

• Free up space in your head
• Capture all the tasks that need to be done
• Manage only what can be done today, based on the available time
• Match up the best time to accomplish that task, based on your productivity recipe

By having a Master List and a Today List, you have much better control over when you do what.


Lauren Midgley, business strategist, time behaviorist, speaker and author, based in Dallas-Ft. Worth area. She works with business owners to master productivity and profits in their business. She knows that with focus, there can be greater profits, less stress, and a better way of life. Her book, It’s 6 a.m & I’m Already Behind: Strategies to Get Caught Up can be obtained at her website.