Doing the Two-Step

Do you struggle to get through your “to do” list? You need to learn the two-step! No, not the dance – although that is a lot of fun. This “two step” is the way to get things done.

→ Step 1: Make the List

Most people are familiar with the “to do” list. Whether you use scraps of paper, a notebook, an assignment pad, or an app, the “to do” list is the place where you record the tasks you need to complete. Capturing the items you need to complete is critical, as most people forget what they don’t record. A solid “to do” list is both complete (write it all down!) and consistent (one location, each and every time.)

In addition, it is wise to break long-term projects into specific steps. Large projects are easy to procrastinate because they are vague. In contrast, well-defined tasks are less intimidating and therefore easier to tackle. For example…

If you have a research paper, break it down into items such as “research database”, “write thesis”, “compile outline”, “write rough draft”, “complete bibliography”, and “finish final document”.

If you are renovating a bathroom, you might consider “gather inspiration”, “make budget”, “interview and hire contractors”, “shop for faucet”, “select paint/wall paper”, etc.

→ Step 2: Schedule the Tasks

In my experience, this is where most people falter. Having a “to do” list is terrific, but a long list is not prioritized, and offers limited accountability. If all you have is a list, you are likely to gravitate toward the easy or the pleasant, and avoid the rest.

In order to check items off of your list, it is vital to decide exactly when you will do each task. This requires planning, and should be done at least once a week. In order to successfully schedule tasks:

  • Gather your calendar and your “to do” list.
  • Review your existing commitments for the upcoming week (e.g. meetings, appointments, rehearsals, practices, etc.)
  • Make note (either mentally or physically in your calendar) of when you have time to work on your “to do” items. Remember, not all tasks need a large block of time, so look for both small and large periods of available workspace.
  • Schedule when you will work on each item. You can either make a notation next to each item on your “to do” list, or transfer items from your “to do” list onto your calendar. This is a matter of personal choice. Some people keep a separate “to do” book that has a different day on each page, and every item gets assigned to a specific date. (for more information this approach, click here.)
  • At the end of the day, assess your progress against your plan, and “reschedule” any items you were not able to complete.
  • When new items hit your “to do” list, remember to add them to your schedule.

The key here is to thoughtfully plan your time, instead of simply creating a big list and hoping time will appear to get work done. Assigning tasks to specific days and times makes it much more difficult to procrastinate, and gives you a sense of accomplishment when you look and see what you’ve achieved.

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Doing the two-step is a simple way to increase your productivity. Do you schedule your tasks? What works for you?

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35 thoughts on “Doing the Two-Step”

    1. I hate working on a project for a long time and still not being able to check anything off of my list! I’ve gotta see the progress to stay motivated, even if it is small progress:)

  1. I’ve been following this method for years as my job away from blogging is to test and implement new systems and procedures in my company. Sometimes these tasks take months of planning and execution and a scheduled to-do list is the only way to go. Great advise!
    Laurie recently posted…Fall Feather WreathMy Profile

    1. Long term projects definitely need some scheduled, small steps. Thanks for this affirmation – I love when readers tell me that they are using these ideas and they are working!

    1. I’m not surprised that you are doing both because you seem very well organized to me, Nina! I need that accountability of a deadline, and I love the joy of checking off that box!

  2. Love that you have simplified this system! While we know that we can only do so much in the amount of time we have, we often think we can do more. With the writing down and scheduling steps, you will be assured of your productivity.

    1. So you are an app user – great! I love hearing how people keep track of their lists. Sounds like this system is working for you, which is all that matters:)

  3. I enter my tasks into a software program called Swift To Do List. I tag each task as Urgent, Do Now, Do ASAP, or Do Next. At the beginning of each day, I filter my list to only see those tagged as Urgent or Do Now. If there are more than I can realistically accomplish, I’ll delegate what I can or downgrade the lowest priority ones to Do ASAP. Once I’ve completed all the top priority tasks, I change the filter to ASAP and work on those. I like it better than entering them in a calendar, because it’s easier to manipulate as my priorities shift.

    1. I wonder what got you started with the two-step when you were a teenager? Were you taught, or did you figure it out on your own? It is SOOO helpful when kids hit the middle and high school years, when their schedules fill up. Best of luck!

  4. I like that you highlighted the to do list needs to be in one location! Too often I see folks with a calendar in the kitchen, sticky notes by their desk, tasks on their phone, etc. How can you expect to get anything done when you have to check 3 places to figure out what you should be doing?! Thanks for the reminder, Seana.

    1. Yes, and sometimes people are maintaining multiple calendars, which is tricky. I think people are trying very hard to go digital, but then sometimes they can’t access their digital list, so they jot something down, and then you have the mess. One place for all information works best for me!

  5. I use WorkFlowy to keep track of my lists. I agree that scheduling tasks is the best way to get them done. But I also run into people who have trouble breaking their larger projects down into smaller do-able tasks. I find that if I haven’t done something yet it is either because I haven’t broken it down (planned it out) yet, or I haven’t scheduled time for it yet, or….I don’t really need to do it after all.
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Puzzling Out Your Family HistoryMy Profile

    1. Larger tasks often sit on lists for a long time because they feel too big to tackle. I totally agree! I’m laughing that you have items you don’t really need to do… I bet we all have a few of those:)

  6. Man, if there is one thing I really struggle with, it’s keeping a to-do list. I’ve finally conquered my calendar aversion out of sheer desperation and now I keep a digital calendar on my iPhone, which helps me with all my multiple commitments. I do have Wunderlist, which is supposed to be one of the best to-do apps, but I just can’t use it consistently. I’m not sure if I feel my life is so predictable/routine that I don’t actually need to use it, or if I just think I’m smart enough to keep it all in my head (I’m not!). I guess it’s all about teaching myself new habits and sticking to them.

    1. I think consistency is really the key, no matter what tool you use. It’s when we fail to go through the process of recording and scheduling that we forget things – myself included for sure! I sometimes joke that my planner is my second brain:)

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  9. I like how you’ve broken the list making process into two distinctly different steps: capturing and scheduling. I use the “2Do” app to capture and schedule my to dos. In addition, I often use a handwritten or digitally printed list to manage ongoing details for specific projects. I agree with you that it’s one thing to capture the tasks that need doing, but if we omit the scheduling portion, it’s less likely that we’ll accomplish all the we want.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Simple Way to Be Daring and Mess With Your BalanceMy Profile

    1. Thank you for the effort to leave this comment:) Scheduling tasks is a part of getting them done for most people. We all know this, and yet we sometimes figure we’ll just around to doing things. I find the ones I’m putting off especially need the extra kick of putting it onto a certain day, and sometimes a particular time. Anything on a grand “whenever I have time” list tends to get overlooked!

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