How I set myself up for success with a functional to-do list

I have always hated to-do lists. I don't know why but the second I would write anything down I would be loathe to actually do it. Then I realized creating an effective to-do list is all about prioritizing my daily, weekly & monthly actions so I am steadily working towards my long term goals, not listing 238936498273817291279 things & crying when I can't do them all. 

I want to start out saying that schedules (ie, "Coffee with Mel at 6pm Tuesday" & "11am PAT meeting") & my (most likely whacked out) version of an effective to-do lists are two totally different things. I'm not saying itemized schedules aren't great for keeping things running smoothly, because they totally are, just that schedules & to-do lists are so easy to confuse and I think that is why me & so many people balk when they look at their to-do lists.

So I figured with January being all about organization & goals, it would be a great time to share my three tips for creating a functional to-do list that I actually enjoy. I even made a very easy to use to-do list printable that forces me to really prioritize my weekly & monthly actions & you may find useful, too, so you can get your copy here here then read on to find out how I use it to set myself up for success!

Set easily attainable long-term goals

I used to think that to-do lists were just a list of the day to day stuff you need to get done and as soon as I put every little thing on my to-do list I would start feeling super stressed out. Then I one day I just had this epiphany - I don't need to write down things like "answer emails". I have a block of time set aside every morning and afternoon just for that. It's not like I'm going to forget to do it, it's part of my daily routine. Putting it & all my other daily actions on my to-do list was totally unnecessary.

Then I was like, wait a minute, have I been doing this wrong this whole time?

That's when I figured out that to-do lists work best for me if I define long term goals are. When I know what I'm working towards, then I feel like I can set up a concentrated action plan broken down by months/weeks. Now I am a to-do list making monster! (Pun totally intended, hehe!)

Here's one of my long term goal for this year!  I'd  love to make 500 monsters next year, but set my actual production goal for 450 monsters. I like to call this "setting myself up for success".

To set myself up for success, I only set long-term goals I know I can make even if something unexpected occurs. The same must be done for the items I put on my to-do list. 

I found that setting realistic goals each week/month on my to-do list that all work towards the long-term goals is super empowering! Realistic doesn't mean not challenging - it just means I know my own limits and allow for some wiggle room. Plus, when you set realistic goals that you can meet & exceed, you can celebrate with a little wine & chocolate or beer & burgers, whatever is your preferred method for celebrating your own awesomeness. And who doesn't need more reasons to celebrate in their life?! 

Break  long-term goals into bite-size bits

After realizing a to-do list is a tool to use to help prioritize the actions I need to take to achieve the long-term goals I set rather than an itemized list longer than my arm of things like "email Sydney, Peter, Paul, Tanesha & Simone" or "Check Facebook messages" or "records daily stats", breaking up my long-term goals into smaller bits (AKA, to-do lists) became a lot more tolerable. I break the individual actions needed to achieve the long term goal down into monthly and weekly to-do lists. For instance, my goal to reach 450 monsters may seem huge. But with a little math to break it down, it becomes a much less daunting task! 

To create my monthly goal, I divide my total number by 12:
To create my weekly goal, I divide my total number by 52:

So I know that each month I need to produce around 40 monsters in order to reach my goal. So each week I need to make around 10 monsters. So now my to-do list is super simple - weekly, make about ten monsters. Monthly, make about forty monsters. I know, it sounds stupid simple. But this simple method keeps me focused on what I hope to achieve for my business & always working towards it.

Ten monsters a week is SO doable. Some weeks I even make 20+ monsters. So even if I catch the flu and miss a week of work, catching up is not unrealistic. And boy, one thing I have learned is setting goals you can meet even if something catastrophic happens is super important because life happens. Take all those things you don't plan for and plan for them when setting goals. Your car breaking down, your water heater breaking, catching a bad stomach virus or the inevitable winter cold, make sure you consider these things when you are setting your goals so even if you miss several weeks of work here and there through the year, that you will still be able to meet your goals. 

Only put the must-do's on the to-do list.

The thing that stressed me out the most was putting want-to-do's on my must-do to-do list. It did nothing besides create unnecessary stress. Must-do's include sending payments, responding to important emails, working on your line sheet for wholesale clients, production goals, etc. Want-to-do's are things like "go to the craft store" (unless I absolutely totally need something, of course) & "pick up new gold monogram mug from Target" or even "join a community for makers this week" - that doesn't need to be on my to-do list, because it doesn't bring me any closer to my goals. Those would all go on my want-to-do list.

What I do is order items that MUST be done at the very top for must reach goals. Once I check those off my list, I reward myself by completing some want-to-do's! All want-to-do's go lower on the list (or not on the list at all if there is paramount must-do's that need doing), and my want-to-do's also have much smaller goals so if I complete all my must-do's I'm not balking at 57 more things on my want-to-do list.

So, in short, before I put a ton of items on my to-do list, I step back & meditate on my long term goals. I make certain that my daily, weekly & monthly actions are continually bringing me closer to these goals. By doing this, I found other items falling off my to-do list because those actions didn't support my long term plans & were stressing m out for no reason. And when we stop focusing on actions that aren't helping us grow, we are more likely to thrive! 

I created this fun free printable to-do list to help define my must-dos and want-to-dos while always keeping my long-term goals in sight. There is both a color version and a black and white version you can choose from if you want to download your own to try out! 

A clever way to use this list without having to print a million & one copies of it is to print a single copy and write your yearly goal in the left box, then put this pretty to-do list in a picture frame. Use a dry erase marker to update your monthly and weekly must-do's and your weekly want-to-do's!


  1. Making micro goals out of the big stuff has definitely helped keep me on task this year. I managed to bust out a TON of stuff for a craft sale last far just because I make weekly checkpoints for myself. Made a world of difference!

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