How to get your to-do list done

Six steps to finally getting your to do list done

With so many of us being overwhelmed, overworked and over-committed, our To Do List can feel like Friday the Thirteenth's Freddy coming after us in our sleep. This topic is a discussion around the SMARTS method to getting your To Do List Done! By using your SMARTS you can start feeling less stressed and more balanced. The SMARTS method means setting up each To Do item with the following criteria in mind. Each item needs to be:


Problem: Often our to-do items are too broad which results in us doing nothing because we don't even know where to begin.

Solution: Make sure the to-do item is as specific as possible. By breaking down our to-do items, particularly those stubborn ones that we have trouble getting done, into their individual, actionable steps we make it easier to identify and carry out the next step. Thinking big. Start small. Take Action.


  • Not specific: Plan little Mickey's birthday party-this is about 100 to-do items wrapped up in one.

  • Specific: Create an invitation list on Thursday afternoon at 3PM for little Mickey's birthday party.


    Problem: We don't know when we have completed a to-do item so we don't feel the sense of satisfaction, which then results in a loss of motivation to continue.

    Solution: Make sure you can measure when the to-do item is complete so that you can celebrate your accomplishment. Much of our motivation to get things done in our lives comes from utilizing a system of rewards and praise.


  • Not Measurable: Clean house for party--come on, we all know there is always one more thing we will tell ourselves needs cleaning before we are officially done.

  • Measurable: Clean kitchen, living room and downstairs bathroom for party.


    Problem: Sometimes we get so caught up in the thinking phase that we don't move onto the doing phase where our to-do list actually gets done.

    Solution: Make sure your to-do item is an action item that you can do and not just think about doing.


  • Not Actionable: Think about making an invitation list.

  • Actionable: Make a complete invitation list.


    Problem: Often we over-commit and schedule ourselves in such a way that we feel perpetually behind and unsatisfied with our accomplishments.

    Solution: Make sure your to-do item is realistic and that it can be completed with the resources you have which include time, money and energy.


  • Not realistic: If you only have 2 days to plan a party for 20 five-year-olds it is probably not realistic that you will be able to design homemade party favors, cook your grandma's famous tuna casserole and train for the half-marathon you are doing next week.

  • Realistic: Get some delicious food trays from Costco, throw a few kid games in the cart while you are there and ask other adult guests to bring chips and dips.


    Problem: If your to-do item is ongoing, like exercise, we are often not clear with ourselves about how long we would like to engage in that to-do item. Also another issue is when the to-do item, like creating an invitation list, is done only once, we are not clear about exactly when we would like to do it.

    Solution: For those ongoing to-dos, it can less daunting to put an end date, such as, "I will go to the gym 2 days a week for 3 months." For those to-dos that we need to do only once, scheduling a specific time on the calendar is invaluable to ensure it will get done.


  • Not time bound: I will run 3 days a week for the rest of my life- YIKES, I say!

  • Not time specific: Go to Costco and pick up food trays.

  • Time bound: I will run 3 days a week, 30 minutes a day, for the next 2 months.

  • Time-specific: Go to Costco on Wednesday afternoon at 4PM on the way home from picking up Mickey at school.


    Problem: We don't ask for, accept or expect support from other people in our lives.

    Solution: Engage the support of other people to help you get your to-do items done. Support can mean sharing what you plan to do with someone else, asking someone to join you in your activity or requesting help in actually getting something done.


  • No Support: Planning and hosting Mickey's birthday party all by yourself.

  • Support: In the process of planning and hosting Mickey's birthday party, ask your husband to do the barbequing, your sister in-law to help put up decorations and your best friend to give you emotional support as you watch your son, Mickey, turn 5. How quickly they grow up.


    Step 1: Define what you value most

    Step 2: Create an Action Plan, which connects you to yourself, gives you a sense of direction and allows you to take control of your life

    Step 3: Establish regular practices that will enable you to not only be in balance today but know how to stay in balance tomorrow.

    About Kirsten Mahoney:
    Kirsten Mahoney is a certified Life Balance Coach and founder of Insight Out Life Coaching who enjoys speaking nationally, live and on radio, on the subjects of life balance and stress management. As a Life Balance Coach, Kirsten combines her natural curiosity and compassion with her expertise and knowledge to empower people to live more balanced, less stressful lives. Her approach incorporates one-on-one coaching, workshops and presentations, as well as designing and implementing corporate wellness programs. Her clients include Clif Bar, Wells Fargo, IDEO, Rotary International and Spring Board Forward, a frequent winner of Fast Company's Social Capitalist Award. Kirsten is also author of Insights, an international monthly publication on Life Balance.

    Prior to becoming a Life Balance Coach, Kirsten performed as Director of Operations for a leading international cultural exchange organization where she traveled internationally to present workshops and provide trainings.

    Kirsten has worked and studied on five continents and has traveled throughout thirty-five countries. Much of her understanding of people and the life balance choices they make has been informed by her diverse traveling experiences.

    Kirsten has earned a BA in Sociology from Tulane University and University College Dublin, Ireland, an MA in Education from San Francisco State University and Massey University, New Zealand and a Professional Coaching Certification through the International Coaching Federation accredited program at New Ventures West.

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