To calendar or not to calendar, that is the question. When it comes to your personal and professional levels of organization, it is important to be using the right tools. Staying on top of your tasks and deadlines are not only going to ensure you are doing your job well, but will also help you outline and achieve your goals. 

To-do lists and calendars are both basic yet crucial systems that you should be taking advantage of to be on top of your professional game. But, knowing which is right for you, one that you will actually stick to for more than a few weeks, can be tough. We are going to cover when you should be using a to-do list vs a calendar to best fit your goals and schedule. 

To-Do Lists

We have all seen the margin section on a planner, a magnetic fridge pad, a white board next to the door, all with the short phrase at the headers – “to-do.” So what is a to-do list? It is a collection of what you need to complete, get done…the things you need to do. While the name and definition are pretty self explanatory, it can be difficult to know exactly how to take full advantage of their simplicity. 

Benefits of a To-Do List

There are a few key benefits to using this system of organization, both in your personal life and for your career. Some of which include:

  • Creating a manageable workload – having all of your tasks in one place makes you feel more in control of your workload. You are more likely to tackle those items when you feel as though your to-dos are not a chore. 
  • Progress tracking – a to-do list allows you to cross out tasks that have been completed. That act shows you how far you are progressing through your list, and better yet, towards your goals.
  • Task retention – when you are juggling 5, 10, 20 tasks at a time, it can be easy to forget things from time to time. With a to-do list, you are being reminded on a daily basis of the things on your plate. 
  • Prioritization – having a complete list of your responsibilities means that you can rearrange it to give you a better sense of when to do each task. Highest priority items should be at the top of the list!
  • Accountability – with a list of tasks, you can see the things you have done, but also the things that you have yet to finish.

Taking advantage of to-do lists can give you a sense of accomplishment and organization. One key disadvantage however is that some don’t know how to implement them to their full potential. 

How to Use a To-Do List to Accomplish Your Goals

Getting your to-do list optimized is going to help you attain your set performance goals. A great to-do list is effective and efficient. A few methods to ensure your to-do list is up to par are:

  • Breaking up your list into sections – these sections should include one for your daily tasks and one for your big picture items. Daily tasks are your regular responsibilities that you know are always going to be there but still need completion. Big picture tasks are things such as making a new hire, finishing payroll, or even publishing an article.

    Pro Tip
    : when it comes to the big picture section, listing out each step it will take to get to the end goal can make it more manageable. 
  • Rearrange your list from most to least important – not only will this keep you organized, but it will also help with procrastination. Most important tasks can also be the most daunting, when you force yourself to simply do it and check it off the list, you can actually get more done. Moving on to smaller tasks that take less effort and time is a nice way to end your day too. 
  • Make your list easily accessible at all times – you will never know when you get an idea to add to your to-do lists! That doesn’t mean you have to have it in front of your face 24/7, but knowing where it is will make adding to and editing it much easier. 
  • Give yourself some fun incentives for completing tasks – we aren’t supposed to admit it but work can be boring. Make work fun by turning your to-do list into a game or reward system. For example, if you complete 2 tasks before 11am, take a break and reward yourself with a coffee or snack break. 
  • Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines – set firm(ish) deadlines to follow to ensure all of your work actually gets done. A to-do list is a great thing when it comes to showing you what you need to do but if you never add in a time to have it completed it’s just a list. 
  • Revise on a regular basis – not to be too philosophical, but things in life change very quickly and work is no exception. Set time aside to reevaluate your tasks and clean up old ones that you have already completed. 

To-do list planning is what makes them powerful. There is no time when using a to-do list is going to harm your professional career. It takes only minutes of your day to make a huge difference in the organization department! 

Calendars

Not just a 17 x 11 sheet of card stock with pictures of kittens in hats that you get as gag gifts. Calendars are actually a really important tool that you should be using to keep you on track to execute your objectives. Whether a digital or the good old fashioned, nailed to the wall, flip every 4 weeks calendar, calendars are the perfect way to make schedules. 

Advantages of Using Calendars

While they might seem like you encounter them on a daily basis, mostly when you accidentally open the app when trying to get the weather, your calendar can be not only practical but powerful in terms of getting things done. In fact, there are numerous ways that you can get an edge by using them properly, such as:

  • Plan and keep track of your time – when you know you have a job to get done, scheduling your tasks can be much easier to see when you have availability.
  • Scheduling meetings – if you are using an online calendar, sending meeting invites and notes is as easy as type, click, send. 
  • Block out time for personal events or breaks – when you schedule time not only for work, but for breaks too, you will notice that doing your work is less of a chore and feels more productive.
  • Accountability – as with to-do lists, calendars show you exactly what you should be doing and when which leaves less room for procrastination.
  • Gives an idea of time spent on different tasks – scheduling your tasks into a calendar gives you an idea of how long different tasks take to complete. That will give you an idea of how to budget your time in future on similar items.

Ways to Use a Calendar to Improve Your Schedule

So now that you know that you should be using that calendar to its fullest potential, you should know some of the best ways to carry out your calendar focused mission:

  • Set reminders and alerts – if you get distracted or off course, a reminder to move on to a new meeting, task, or other item on your agenda, is a great way to stay on top of your day. 
  • Record new events immediately – avoid forgetting to add time to complete a new task by adding it to your calendar as soon as you can after getting the assignment.
  • Color code your items – set a color for things like meetings, personal time, and creating reports. That will allow you to visualize your day more quickly.
  • Add details – adding in details about your specific task when you first enter it, recalling that information will be much easier when you revisit it later.
  • Stick to your schedule – once you have taken time out of your day to create a schedule, sticking to it is important for productivity. You can always edit your schedule to give you more time on different days but make sure you use it as best as possible. 

Create the Perfect Organizational System

Whether you use a to-do list, or a calendar, or better yet, both, they won’t work for you if you aren’t committed to them. Whatever works best for you, avoid those moments 6 months after starting your organization journey when you find that old planner or list at the bottom of your bag. Get on top of your game by using these tools to get more done!