The Power of the To Do List
Since graduating college and becoming a "real adult," I've come to fully appreciate the value of a to-do list. I've also come to recognize that more often than not, a to-do list is much more effective in theory. Up until recently, making one always seemed to do me more harm than good, adding excess stress to tasks I was already worrying over. In the last month or so I've found the key to mastering the to-do list, and it has unironically changed my life. The good news is that the steps are stupidly simple. The bad news is that theory and practice (in case you didn't know) are two completely different things.
A to-do list is only as good as the likelihood that you'll finish everything on it. Otherwise, chances are you'll end up disappointed and more stressed out than when you started. So the first step is being honest with yourself. If you're someone who struggles to stay motivated, looking at a mile-long list of incomplete tasks will only feed into that struggle. This is how even the most organized people end up standing still; they let that initial disappointment keep them from getting back on the horse.
So, how to avoid to-do list fatigue?
1. Break it Down
Again, a truly effective to-do list is one upon which you know you'll be able to check off every item. The best way I've found to achieve this is by breaking your list into three parts. Feel free to adjust to your own needs, but for me I like to keep a "today to-dos," "this week to-dos," and "this month to-dos." Dividing tasks this way can relieve a lot of stress, and makes it easier to stay motivated because you aren't pushing yourself to get everything done at once.
Tangible proof of what you've accomplished each day makes a huge difference for both your mood and motivation. Seeing a fully marked off list, even if comprised of smaller tasks, will leave you more likely to achieve the same the next day. Small steps can build to big changes, and a to-do list is no exception.
2. Have a Hierarchy
This will also depend on your personal preference/work style, but does make a huge difference in the long run. Personally, I tend to order tasks either chronologically or by priority, depending on what kind of day I'm looking at. In case of the former, I'll consider my schedule for the day and then assign tasks to morning, afternoon, or evening slots. If I have an especially hectic work day, I'll go for the latter and organize by order of importance and/or earliest deadline.
Organization goes beyond just having a list; the key is to make that list as efficient as possible. Prioritizing tasks allows you to get a clear sense of your workload and better schedule the day ahead. What I find especially helpful about this system is that it encourages you to do the bigger/more pressing tasks first. This brings with it a greater sense of accomplishment, which then makes the smaller tasks that much easier to complete.
3. Always Have it Handy
While I'm typically a big proponent of physically writing things down, this is one case in which your phone can be especially helpful. If you want your to-do list to really pack a punch, it's important to update it as you go. This applies to marking off completed tasks, as well as adding any new ones that may pop up. Your phone is perfect for keeping track of your list because chances are it's always within reach. While I love my Passion Planner dearly, sometimes it just can't compare to the convenience of my notes app.
Oftentimes things pop up unexpectedly and/or your day doesn't go as planned. Keeping your to-do list close by helps you better adjust for the unanticipated and makes it simple to keep track of your progress. This in and of itself can do wonders to keep you motivated and help you stay the course, regardless of what life throws at you.
4. Write Down Everything
Speaking from firsthand experience, it's always better to write down even the seemingly obvious tasks. If you think you'll be able to remember something without your list, it will most likely get sent to the back of your mind, only to be recalled after the fact. Save yourself the headache and jot it down- the worst that happens is you have one more item to check off for the day.
It's no secret that writing things down improves memory and retention. But it can also be incredibly effective for keeping you honest and committed. When you have a task clearly written out, it's like a contract you sign with yourself. The work becomes harder to ignore, which will encourage you to at least attempt the task. Doing so makes you that much more likely to follow through the day after that, and so on.
Sometimes it's the simple things which help us step into the life we really want. In my experience, a well managed to-do list is the perfect gateway into forming better habits, setting (and achieving) goals, and embracing the power we have over our day to day experience. Incorporate these steps into your daily routine and I'm confident you'll start to see some impressive results.