To Do Lists? Get Real!

Guest post by Vicki Voisin, ACP

Would you like to be organized? Of course you would! Unfortunately there is no magic pill, no easy way to accomplish that. Instead, getting organized requires a plan with work that never ends. The basic plan is your To Do List. These tips will help you get your To Do List under control and working for you:

Where do you start? Clear your head!

  • Take a few minutes to write down everything you have to do.
  • Delete anything that does not fit into your life or is unnecessary.
  • Divide the list into things you “have to do” and “want to do”.
  • From your “have to do” list, make a priority list of just 3-7 things.
  • Tackle your priority list each day.
  • At the end of the day, cross off the things you completed
  • Start all over again the next day with 3-7 priority tasks.
  • Review your to-do list regularly. Ideally at the beginning, middle and end of your day, but at a minimum review it once a day.

Taking Action.

  • Be realistic; do not try to do everything at once.
  • If you are tackling a task and do not know where to begin ask yourself:
    • What comes to mind when I think of this task?
    • What would I tell someone else to do first?
  • Set a time to actually do the task. Remember, while deadlines are great motivators, you should be taking steps all along to reach the deadline.
  • If you cannot seem to get the things on your list done, you may have planned tasks that are too large. Ask yourself:
    • Do I need to re-define the project?
    • What is one thing I could do to move the project forward?


  • When you choose your high priority tasks for the day, consider how long each will take and plan for that.
  • Do not plan so many tasks for a day that you cannot complete everything.
  • Give yourself more time to perform a task than you expect it to take.
  • Be Flexible: life happens and despite your best planning things do not always work out the way you want them to.
  • Create To Do Lists with beginning and end times; refer to your lists and stick with the time.


  • Write down what you plan to do. post your plan where you will see it and use it.
  • Plan your errands around a location. (Example: Plan to do everything you need to do downtown at one time.)
  • Schedule time with yourself to actually do the projects on your list; do not just write down due dates.
  • All projects include tasks other than the project. Plan for time to to do the separate pieces: gather information, do research, etc.

Be Prepared

  • Always carry something to do while you are waiting so you use your down time productively. (Suggestions: a book, needlework, note cards.)
  • Always keep a notepad nearby. When you think of something not associated with the task you are doing, write it down so that you do not forget it. Do NOT stop what you are doing to take care of it!
  • Always keep your calendar and your to-do list with you.

Your “Want To Do” List

  • If you spend all your time doing only the things you “have to do”, you will never have time to relax and do the things you “want to do”.
  • Plan some time every day to work on things YOU want to do. This may mean saving something from your “have to do” list for another day.
  • Remember: the world will not stop if you take time for yourself. The tasks you “have to do” will still be waiting for you.


  • Schedule a wrap up time. Do not work on your list until it is done.
  • If you have trouble stopping, set an alarm or have someone call you 5 or 10 minutes BEFORE you need to stop working.
  • Always ask: “Am I doing the right things on my ‘have to do’ list?” You are IF what you are doing is moving you closer to your goals.

Following these steps should help you plan your To Do Lists, complete tasks on your lists, and reach the goals you set for yourself. The result? Success!


© 2012 Vicki Voisin, Inc.  Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it:

Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. Vicki publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.

More information is available at where subscribers receive Vicki’s 151 Tips for Your Career Success.

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