Ask Deborah: The Art of Time Management and “To Do” Lists

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Q: “Are there any techniques or motivation tips that can help with time management discipline?  For example, I start a Weekly Calendar and To Do List, but after two weeks I stop.”  Terry, mom to Amelia, 4, and Sophia, 2

A: Most people think time management means trying to get as much done as possible within a given amount of time. Become more efficient and you get more done, right? Thus the grand “to-do-list”! Which can end up becoming a laundry list of everything TO DO except for to fix the kitchen sink, or that could be included as well! The problem with this way of thinking is that it can become very overwhelming, very quickly. And it’s counter productive. Time management is not about getting a lot of things done. Instead, time management is all about getting the important things done! Which brings you back to your grand to-do list and deciding what’s important to you for that day!


Limit your list to 3-5 items tops: Decide what is important to get done today. What do you need to work on today to  eventually meet your scheduled deadlines? Pick 3-5 things to get done today. That’s it! No more! (If you have little kids like Terry, then stop at 3 things!) And here’s the reason why: if you limit your list you’ll actually get it done and your To-Do list is no longer a panic attack that you avoid. Now, you’ll go through your list motivated that you are getting important things done!

Urgent does not necessarily mean important: That’s where you need to decide what’s really important for you in the grand scheme of life. If you constantly spend your time taking care of everything that comes your way, you are being reactive with your time and probably feeling like you have no control. Take control of your time and decide if something is really important to do. If it can be left until later or someone else can do it, then it’s not important for you to do! Or it might be something that won’t ever get done! And that’s okay too!

Plan your list the night before: If you can, plan your to-do list the night before for the next day. Doing this helps you mentally prepare for your day by knowing what to expect and motivates you to get your list done! It also helps you sleep better! No more list-making in your head as you try to go to sleep at night.

Use your Weekly Calendar to plan your days: If you can, get into the habit of writing everything down in your planner, then it will be easy to write your to-do lists. Try (at Container Store). It’s stylish and has a section each day for tracking the different aspects of your life for writing your to-do lists in. If you can, schedule when to do things on your list. Then you’ll feel more in control of your time!

What you are role-modeling is that you are in control of your time and that each day there are certain important things that need to get done. When you are working on these important things, let your kids know, “Mom’s working on something important that needs to get done now.” If you respect your time, your kids will respect your time. And visa-versa. For school-aged kids, get them into the habit of deciding what’s important to do and what’s not, and they will be ahead of managing their time when it really counts!

Deborah Kawashima, C.P.O. a certified professional organizer, founded her company, Creative Organizer in 2004 after working in the fashion industry as a children’s wear designer. Growing up her parents owned Montessori schools,  this natural sense of order influences her approach to organizing, Deborah specializes in working with parents and their kids, focusing on helping parents role model organizational and time management skills to their children. In addition to working with her clients, she is currently a life skills instructor at  UCLA extension Pathway, a unique program for college age students who are developmentally challenged (autism, Asperger’s Disorder etc.).

Got questions? Email her:

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Jackie Houchin

    What an eye-opener! Actually I do most of the things you’ve listed, except limit my List to 3-5 items. Usually (yes, the night before) I break down my tasks into a whole bunch of little items so I check them off as I finish. It looks like I’m getting a lot accomplished that way. But… only having a few things “to do” would certainly make my day seem “lighter.” I’ll try it, and get back to you later. :o )

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