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Nothing But the Ruth

Productivity Challenge: Two To-Do Lists

By Ruth Carter

I don’t know about you, but I’m freakishly busy. I welcome any life hacks that let me be more efficient. I recently met Paula Rizzo through my mastermind group for entrepreneurs. She’s an Emmy Award-winning TV producer who attributes much of her success to compulsive list-making. She wrote the To-Do List Book “Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed,” in which she shares her techniques with others.

Listful Thinking Cover

Ideas From the To-Do List Book

In reading Rizzo’s book, I noted how “list-tastic” I already am. I regularly write grocery lists, packing lists for trips, and a list of monthly goals that I break down into weekly tasks and daily to-dos. Rizzo gave me a suggestion to be more productive: Make separate to-do lists each day — one for the morning and one for the afternoon.

I decided to embrace this challenge and do it for the entire month of May to see if it made a difference.

The New Morning Ritual

Every morning, I tore a page from my 3-by-5-inch notebook and wrote “AM” on one side and “PM” on the other. As I sipped my morning coffee, I filled in my tasks to be accomplished before and after lunch, being mindful to sort tasks based on my strengths. Most client work was scheduled for the morning and more creative tasks like blog writing were scheduled in the afternoon.

Dividing my list made me more effective. Instead of thinking about all the tasks I could complete in a single day, it forced me to be realistic about what I could accomplish in four or five hours. A perpetual procrastinator, I would usually try to put off my to-do list until the last few hours of the day. The two lists created a sense of urgency to complete my morning tasks before taking a break for lunch. It helped me be more focused. When my mind wandered after completing a task, I often thought, “Where’s my list?” to see what I needed to do next.

Having a shorter to-do list for each part of the day also gave me fewer choices, so instead of having 10 things to do in an eight-hour period, I would only have to focus on four things for the next four hours. Putting these restrictions and short deadlines on myself helped manage my ADD-ish tendencies.

Did this list challenge make me more productive? Yes.

Did it make me feel less stressed? Yes.

More successful? The jury’s still out on that one, but I intend to keep using the dual to-do list method as I tackle new projects this summer, breaking my daunting goals into more manageable tasks. We’ll see!

Which To-Do Lists Should You Add?

I asked Rizzo for her advice for busy and stressed lawyers who are simultaneously responsible for providing services to clients and bringing in new business. How can lists help them be more successful? If they could only add one list to their lives, what would it be? Here’s what she said:

“There are two lists I recommend. One is the ‘outsource’ list. We often feel like we need to be doing it all ourselves. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. Make a list of all the tasks that you’re handing that don’t use the best use of your time. Find someone else to do that list for you. It’s freeing when you can focus on what you’re really meant to be doing.

“I’m a big fan of the ‘to-become’ list for entrepreneurs and business professionals. Once you set an intention to do something it’s much easier to reach that goal. You should include everything you want your business to become. It will keep you motivated and accountable. No dream is too big or too small.”

If you’re interested in using lists, be sure to check out Rizzo’s list templates and other helpful suggestions at List Producer.

Image ©ImageZoo.

Categories: Lawyer Productivity, Lawyer Time Management, Nothing But The Ruth!
Originally published June 22, 2016
Last updated August 18, 2020
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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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