Conquer Your To Do List For More Creative Time

Today, as promised, I provide you with a 10-step action plan to CONQUER YOUR TO DO LIST– designed to dissolve the glue of the to-do and escape the Creativity Gap. 


A To-Do list that never sees any action keeps you stuck right where you are. The point of a To-Do list is to outline steps you need to take each day to move you forward. In other words, to propel you closer and closer toward both your personal goals and daily responsibilities.

The mundane day-to-day tasks are too often the only To-Dos that get crossed off the list. You know that the act of doing your laundry is just as important as working on your art and I know that you don’t want to hear me say that, but bear with me.

The things you put on your to-do list are all important things that you want and need to accomplish: pick up your daughter at 4 PM; spend an hour on your art; do the laundry. Let’s look at doing the laundry vs. dedicated art time.

If I don’t get the laundry done, I and/or my family will end up wearing stinky, dirty clothes. I do the laundry because it is important to wear clean clothes. Therefore, doing the laundry is an important task.

While creative time is something that can wait, ultimately it is extremely important to my (and your) overall well being and happiness as well as my (and your) personal dreams and goals. When time is limited, which one wins out? Yep – the laundry. Do you see where I am going with this?

If I think of each incomplete task, no matter how small and time-bound or how big and “whenever,” as a spot of glue that keeps my head and dreams stuck in my current situation, then I can see how having a system for conquering the To-Dos will allow me to live a life of freedom and accomplishment.

There are many ways to tackle a To-Do list and dissolve that glue. The more steps you take, the more you will become the master of your To-Do list AND your life. Try any or all of the 10 steps in my action plan and see what works for you.

Of course, this only works if you actually take some (or all) of these steps to conquer your to do list!

Put this action plan at the top of your To-Do list and DO the steps. It’s one more To-Do, yes, but just for now. Once these things become secondhand, the To-Do glue will dissolve and you will soar.

10 Steps to Conquering Your To-Do List

  1. Read (or re-read ) my Creativity and Your To Do List post and do the block exercise. We artists are visual and there’s nothing like seeing your day in 20-minute blocks.
  2. Get a day-planner or At-a-Glance calendar with, at a minimum, a block for each hour. I prefer the one with15 minute intervals. The more you micro-manage your day, the more you can get done. Control = Freedom.
  3. Schedule your to-dos on the calendar so that you can see the big picture of your day and week. Just like a child thrives on a schedule and routine, so will you.
  4. Learn to prioritize. Some things can just wait. Knowing which ones will make your day easier and your to-do list shorter.
  5. Don’t confuse want-to with have to. Many days are wasted because we choose the easy or fun option instead of the more time consuming or complicated better-for-me option. The best example of this is sticking to a diet. We are very good at doing what we want to do and even better at finding 100 ways to justify it.
  6. Figure out how you work best. One school of thought on tackling a to-do list is to do the biggest/hardest/most time consuming task first and get it out of the way. Others say to get all the little nagging tasks out of the way first and tackle the big one with a sense of accomplishment. I work in the middle, completing all the quick and easy tasks I can do before 10 AM and then settling in for the big one THEN doing the less important or urgent small tasks late in the afternoon after the big one(s) is complete.
  7. Spread out things that take more than a day or afternoon to complete. Make a few appointments with yourself (on your day planner) to work on these tasks and keep the appointments. Even 15 minutes every day brings you closer to the goal than always leaving it for later “when you have more time.” “More time” never comes. You used the appointment system in high school by showing up in class to learn algebra. You can certainly use it now to achieve your bigger, better and more personally pleasing goals.
  8. Speaking of time – get a timer! Using a timer prevents you from wasting time, whether it’s online or on task. Checking your email or writing a Facebook post is part of life. Spending all morning reading Facebook or playing with photo apps is not going to get you any closer to your dreams. Set a timer. 10 minutes. When time is up, get back to working on your art.
  9. And speaking of getting back to work…practice discipline. Those who achieve the most, the ones you admire (or envy!), are very disciplined artists. While it may seem like a lot of work, or counter-intuitive to your creative free-spirit, discipline and organization actually allows for more freedom, peace of mind, self-satisfaction and…success!
  10. Schedule free-time into your day. Breaks are important, especially for the larger to-dos that take more concentration. The more you push yourself to finish something, the more stress you will create. Stop for 10-15 minutes each hour to stretch, take a walk, paint a background or do a sketch. Or maybe you opt to do one of those quick and easy to-dos on the list, like throw a load of laundry in the dryer. In an average day, five or six 10 minute breaks add up to an hour of personal time. Would you rather spend it looking at what others are doing, or doing something for yourself? Choose wisely.

Image by Leigh Wells for the Wall Street Journal