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07/25/2014 08:00 am ET

The 6 Biggest Mistakes You're Making With Your To-Do List

There's a load of laundry hoping to be folded, lunches asking to be made and an influx of emails impatiently waiting to be answered -- and you haven't even had your morning coffee. At this point, you are faced with several options:

a. Freak out, and just totally derail your entire day before 7 a.m.;

b. Mindlessly tackle the projects as they come at you with no sense of time, organization or mental clarity;

c. Make a to-do list and complete items in order before crossing them off.

The last one's the obvious choice, right? While that may be true, there's a good chance that even if you do work in a to-do list format, you're going about it all wrong. That's why we've come up with the worst of the worst checklist offenses that are pretty much guaranteed to send you spiraling back into chaos. Check out the list and the remedies below, and you just might find yourself enjoying a calmer, cleaner evening tonight.

1. You're not ordering by immediacy. When trying to get your ducks in a row, just remember -- first ducks first. Don't start your list with dinner when the bed isn't even made. Work in a way that lets you accomplish items that coincide with the natural progression of your day. Also, don't be afraid to employ some help from a couple of "can be done tomorrow" labels.
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2. You're not grouping. If you think of every single day as a giant to-do list, you will be exhausted before you even start. Try grouping your day into categories such as "morning," "afternoon" and "evening" or even "work," "home" and "family." And never forget the most beautiful category known as "other" for all the catch-all items.
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3. You're not giving time estimates. Whoever said there really are only so many hours in a day was spot on. And as much as you want to give every single room in your house the deep clean it needs, more often than not, those things take longer than anticipated. Give each item a reasonable time frame and build in a couple extra minutes for delays and distractions so you don't get overwhelmed if the task isn't completed when planned.
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4. You're not delegating. As good as it feels to accomplish everything while flying solo, sometimes your best bet is to pass off to others. Make a separate tab for delegating responsibilities so they don't cloud your own goals.
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5. You're not taking actionable steps. Sure, we all want to check of all the boxes on our lists, but it certainly helps to include tasks you can complete in a day. Think of what it will take to get where you want to be at the end of the day and include it in verb-based format.
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6. You're not working toward a larger goal. Yes, actionable steps matter, but so do those larger goals. Keep them in mind as you create your list and stop to ask yourself, "What is this all for?" "Is this a get-through-the-day item or is it helping me in the bigger picture?" Questions like this will help you put your projects in perspective and give you a sense of why something should -- or shouldn't -- be there.
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