Say Goodbye to your To Do List

Posted by idawrites on September 16, 2008 in Chores, Planning |

To Do Lists are a fabulous way to keep track of the million and one details we have to keep up with. Except that they always seem to get longer and longer… and the items never seem to be crossed off. I’ve got “Remodel the Bathroom” at the top of the list, where it’s been for 3 years! I’ve been PLANNING to complete that chore for a long time, but it’s just too big a job to contemplate.

My sister Karen has a LOT of things on her plate too. She recently mentioned starting a To Do list so she could keep track of all the things she needed to do. The one flaw that I could see was that the jobs on her list were huge. I waited for her outpouring of list items to slow down and asked “Karen, how do you eat an elephant?” She smiled and winked, then responded “one bite at a time!”

I made a suggestion that she break every item on her list down into jobs that can be completed in 15 minutes or less. The very next week, when we met for dinner, Karen brought out a notebook and proudly showed off her new Elephant List! This is really working for her, and, since I swiped her idea, me too!

Creating an Elephant List is easy. Take your normal To Do list and sit down with a fresh notepad (or spreadsheet or word doc or whatever you use) and break down all of the items on it into tasks taking less than 15 minutes. Here are some examples:

Clean The Bathroom

  • Wipe down bathroom sink and counter
  • Scrub toiled
  • Scrub bathtub
  • Sweep bathroom floor
  • Mop bathroom floor
  • Take out bathroom trash
  • Wash bathroom mirror
  • Straighten bathroom shelves
  • Organize bathroom cabinets

Clean The Bedroom

  • Put away folded laundry
  • Change the sheets
  • Make the bed
  • Vacuum
  • Straighten dresser
  • Pull empty hangers out of the closet
  • Put dirty clothes hamper in the laundry room

When I look at my To Do list and it says “Clean the Bathroom” I get overwhelmed at all of the details that it requires me to handle. However, by breaking it down into my new Elephant List, nothing on the list is so overwhelming that I can’t knock one thing out every time I have an extra few minutes.

What do you do to keep your To Do list from overwhelming you? Do you actually make progress toward getting to the end? Please share your secrets here, we can use all the help we can get!!


  • Julie says:

    I once read a book for moms that suggested listing the number one item you wish to get done that day as your hot button item. The others on the list are things you hope to accomplish but know they very well might not happen. This way, when you get the hot button item done, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Some days, my hot button item is as simple as loading the dishwasher but others it is tackling a much larger project.

  • Laurel Plum says:

    To-do lists are on the top of everyone’s love it/hate it for tools. I break my lists down by types instead of time. I have one way of handling daily chores, one way of handling appearances (errands, appointments, people to see…), one way of dealing with big projects (like remodel the bathroom),… It makes it easy to pick a little from each list to make today’s to do list doable. Seems like I am much better at getting to the things I used to put off indefinitely.

    I think you are right, break it down, break it down, break it down again – in anyway that makes sense to you.

  • MeMe says:

    This is very encouraging and helpful. I am trying this now.

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