The early months of a new year usually bring with them a long list of forward-looking to-dos — all the things you plan and hope to accomplish by year’s end. Here is my secret system for tackling your yearly to-do list with efficiency, ease, and enjoyment:
#1 Organize your List into Themes
Often a to-do list is a hodgepodge of tasks and a place where procrastination likes to hide — both of which lead to feelings of overwhelm and defeatism. View your 2023 list as an adventure to experience rather than obligations to endure by organizing it into four themes: Personal, Family, Home, and Work.
- Personal – lose 10 pounds, take tennis lessons, plan girls getaway weekend.
- Family – passport and TSA renewals, summer vacation plans, use Delta credits.
- Home – sell extra car, clean out attic and garage clutter, new house search.
- Work – update resume, attend local bar events and CLE workshops, do 100 hours of pro bono work.
The easiest place to start is with renewals and registrations (licenses, permits, etc.), then move on to milestones (graduations, college app process, anniversary trip, etc.), and finish with aspirations and anticipated achievements (health changes, moves, etc.). Once the list is full you’ll want to further flesh it out into the months of the year by organizing according to deadlines, working backwards up the calendar instead of down.
- Under the theme Family you may have Vacation to Provence in August. Then you should write: buy vacation clothes in July, convert USD to Euros in June, save spending money in May, book hotel/house in April.
#2 Transform the Practical to Purposeful
Once you’ve brainstormed all your to-dos, and are confident you’ve got the full list for the year in theme and calendar order, now it’s time to give all those practical items a purposeful hue. This will help alleviate any feelings of heaviness or resistance and ensure a more ease-filled and pleasant process throughout the year. Spend time being as creative as you can about your list.
- Turn “lose 10 pounds by September” into “I feel light, fit, and amazing,” in July, “I’m dedicated to eating a plant-based diet and working out five times a week,” in May, and “I feel stronger, leaner, and more energetic with each passing day,” in April.
- “Fix roof” in August becomes “I’m investing in a safer, more beautiful home,” in May when you are putting money aside for the project and “I’ve found a trusted team to increase the value of my home,” when you’re asking for recommendations for a roofer in June.
- Even something as simple as a passport renewal in September becomes, “I look tanned, rested, and ready for travel in my passport photo” in July and “My ticket to adventure is ready,” in August as you finish completing the DS-82 form.
#3 Dance in the Delight of Accomplishment
My final two secrets to have you dancing in the delight of accomplishment are to: 1) select a theme song and 2) sprinkle rewards that you only unlocking once you’ve achieved progress on the tougher stuff.
- Choose a theme song with an energetic, moving, and inspiring melody to play each time you dive into a task. John Williams soundtracks are great for this. When it’s time to call contractors for estimates, make yourself a fancy beverage and play your theme song. When you need to prepare paperwork for your taxes, start the morning with a delicious breakfast and play your theme song. When you’re headed to the dentist to get a crown, put on gorgeous heels and play your theme song. You’ll soon find that each time you hear your song, you spring into action with a renewed vigor and excitement about your life.
- The sweet satisfaction of a completed task is made that much more special when rewarded with an activity that brings joy, fun, and pleasure to your life. For example, I love writing blog posts and letters and cards to friends on the weekends. But I carve out that time each weekend only after I’ve checked off my tougher to-dos from earlier in the week. This method tricks my brain into reaching for the list instead of avoiding it because I know the more I get checked off the closer I am to enjoying something I love. Another example is scheduling a monthly lunch with a dear friend only after I’ve checked at least one less appealing thing from each category off the list.
Here’s to turning every tedious, nagging to-do into the manifestation of beautiful goals that bring joy, fulfillment, and solutions to your life.