Workplace Organisation – To Do and To Don’t Lists

To Do and To Don’t lists can be incredibly effective additions to your current daily routines! You might’ve already heard of, and use, a ‘to do’ list but what’s a ‘to don’t’ list? 

A ‘to do’ list is as the name suggests – a list of things to do. It might be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or all of the above, and it usually is used to help you keep track of your tasks, any deadlines and your priorities. They’re super helpful to keep you accountable and to de-clutter your mind so you don’t have to keep mental tabs on everything that’s going on, but they can also sometimes add and/or make you more disorganised.  

To Do Lists

Firstly, if your version of ‘to do’ list writing is listing things on a random slip of paper, multiple sticky notes or the digital equivalent, then To Do Lists can easily become a burden and ineffective because there’s no system or organisation to your method. Slips of papers are lost, sticky notes forgotten and you find yourself in a situation where you’re 99% you wrote it down, but now you can’t find where nor can you recall what exactly you’ve written down.  

It can also become stressful if the list just seems to grow exponentially, going from a cute, controlled list to an untameable monster that serves as a reminder of just how much you need to get down and how much you haven’t yet done. It’s not hard to feel stressed looking at a gigantic list of unending tasks. 

 So how can we make effective ‘to do’ lists that motivate rather than stress? Do some research and spend some time crafting a routine and method that works for you! There’s no one ‘to do’ list that fits all – do some research into the various methods that exist and trial some! To get you started, here’s four methods explored in a Harvard Business Review article that looked at effective ‘to do’ methods. 

Method 1: Using A Calendar

Instead of making a list, block off tasks that you need to do on your calendar. For example, if you’ve got an upcoming task of writing a blog article for work, estimate how much time you’ll need to finish that task and then block off that period on a day in your calendar. For tasks that require work over a few days, break down what needs to be done each day and block off the allocated time each day for those smaller components. For example, if you need to organise an event, work out all the smaller tasks within that larger task and then organise and block off time for each smaller task in your calendar.  

Method 2: Master List and Sticky Notes

This method requires you to keep one central list of all the things you need to do, but instead of referring to this central list all the time (and subsequently feeling overwhelmed by sheer size etc.), you’ll use sticky notes to get one task done at a time. 

How does this work? You’ll need to update your central list as you go but pick one thing on it that you need to focus on for the next few hours/for the day. Close your central list/keep it out of sight, and write the one task you picked on a sticky note and stick it somewhere you can see it – i.e. your computer or on your desk. This way you have a ‘master list’ of all the tasks you need to do but you can keep yourself focused one thing at a time through your ‘one at a time’ sticky note reminders. You also get double the pleasure of ticking things off – you can rip up your sticky note when you finish your task AND then cross it off your central list too!  

Method 3: Digital List Managers

There’s a plethora of digital task managers out there that are designed to help make ‘to do’ list making and tracking easier. Platforms like Asana can also help you keep on track of project sorting, work-flow, recurring tasks, scheduling and more. It can be tricky to navigate at first (as most new online tools are at the start) but if it’s a system that works well with you and for you, the benefits are numerous (the best bit: you can’t ‘lose’ it).

Method Four: The Three List Method

This one requires you to sort your ‘to do’ list into three separate lists: 

  • list 1 is for important but non time sensitive tasks 
  • list 2 is for tasks that need to be completed by the end of the day 
  • list 3 is for tasks that have been hanging around on your ‘to do’ list since the dawn of time, but are likely not going to get done in the near future (e.g. finishing that knitting project from 4 years go) 

You then start with list 2 and calendarize the items listed. Then take list 1 and schedule future dates for the tasks on there. List 3 is there so you can recognise, and admit, that there are things that you just aren’t going to come around to getting done and that’s okay! It’s useful in helping you understand your time is precious but not infinite, and tasks with higher priorities need to get done first. It doesn’t mean you have to throw away list 3 either – you could maybe even do some long term planning or keep it around to see if there’s tasks there that can be bumped up to list 2 or list 1 in the future! 

To DoN'T Lists

So that was all for ‘to do’ lists but what about ‘to don’t’ lists?

Where ‘to do’ lists help you prioritise your time and keep track of what needs to be done and where your time should be spent, a ‘to don’t’ list identifies your time wasting and draining tasks. It’s the other side of a ‘to do’ list – it’ll help you really understand just how valuable your time is and can even help you recover and find ‘more time’ during the day that you didn’t know you had before. So how do you make one? In a recent Sydney Morning Herald article, organisational psychologist Amantha Imber suggests that the starting point is reflecting on your daily routine and recognising:

  • Routines & tasks that de-energise and exhaust 
  • Tasks that don’t really ‘serve’ you in any way 
  • Where and how you spend your time exactly each day and whether there are areas that you didn’t realise you were dedicating unnecessary amounts of time to  

A LinkedIN survey conducted, based on this article, asked respondents to vote for which activity was on the top of people’s ‘to don’t’ list and found the following: 

  • 16% voted for ‘getting back to every email’  
  • 43% voted for ‘going to unnecessary meetings’  
  • 38% voted for ‘sacrificing exercise to do overtime’  

It’s important to note that not all stressors, time wasters or ‘tasks that don’t serve you’ are in your control – for example, there might be meetings that you think are unnecessary, but you must attend regardless. Here, it might be more useful to think in terms of ‘how can I make this activity more useful for me?’ or ‘are there ways I can suggest improving this activity so that it is useful’? A ‘to don’t’ list can be a helpful mechanism to for you to revaluate your own routines but also to get conversations going around in the workplace about whether there are ways to improve collective routines to make them more efficient and productive! 

Try it out and see what works for you!

There’s never a one-size fits all solution for workplace organisation. Your own personal circumstances, the nature of your work and workplace will dictate what works and what doesn’t work for you. It might take some trial an error or a few conversations with peers and  colleagues to see what they’re doing and share tips and resources, or some more research into seeing what the experts are saying!


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