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How to Make an Effective “To-Do” List

Thinking about everything you have to get done in the near future can be pretty overwhelming. If you don’t already have a good habit of making to-do lists, you need to start! For those of you who do write one, I am going to tell you how to improve it and get the most out of it. I know what you’re probably thinking… “Isn’t making a to-do list self-explanatory? It’s just bullet points…” Let me change your mind.

Here are some common mistakes people make when trying to follow a to-do list:

  • Losing the list/not putting it in an obvious spot
  • Being overwhelmed by everything on the list
  • Setting unrealistic goals
  • Setting goals without action/follow-up
  • Having things on the list for much too long
  • Adding to the list but not crossing anything off

What to Include in a To-Do List

Before deciding what to add to your list, choose the right medium that will work for you. I prefer to handwrite my to-do list and keep it in my planner, which I open everyday. Other mediums could be social media, phone apps, a calendar, phone calendar, sticky note on a mirror, notebook, etc. There is not a right answer when it comes to choosing a medium, just choose what will work best for you and make sure it’s something you access/look at daily. According to themuse.com, 41% of people who make a to-do list never touch it after writing/typing it, mostly because of the bullet points listed above. Ever hear of the ‘1, 3, 5 rule?’ When setting goals, your list should include (1) big item, (3) medium tasks, and (5) easy tasks. For example, here’s mine!

  1. Land a freelance writing job

  2. Research one new topic every week
  3. Apply to graduate schools
  4. Organize my debt payments/bill payments

  5. Email pitches
  6. Organize my closet
  7. Make the appointment for the Doctors
  8. Clean out my car
  9. Organize the basement

By distributing your list into easier and harder tasks, it makes it realistic to accomplish. Your tasks can be related to one another, but don’t have to be! Organizing my basement probably (and hopefully) has very little to do with my aspiring freelance career. Above everything remember this infographic: To-Do List "Do's".jpg

The Psychology Behind To-Do Lists 

It’s not about just being organized – our brains actually react differently to a task-ordered system. Just by making a to-do list, we tend to feel better about ourselves. My co-workers always tell me “You are so organized!” when I pull out my planner. My reply? “Thanks, it gives the illusion that I have my life together.” When you write out your thoughts, plans, and goals on paper, it’s easier to see everything that you have yet to accomplish – or the opposite; it helps you calm down when you think everything that you have to do is impossible. Bottom line is, making a to-do list is an easy way to see the whole picture and achieve our goals. As humans, we are wired to think about the future and things we have yet to complete. There’s a word for that!  The “Zeigarnik effect” says that we remember things we need to do better than things we’ve already accomplished. Furthermore, a study done at Wake Forest University proved that participants who wrote down concrete goals were more successful in completing the following activity (and with less anxiety) than those who did not write it down.

Remember to Reward Yourself

As the saying goes: Treat yo’ self. When crossing off a task, reward yourself! This might not include indulging after each small task is accomplished, but set a goal for yourself. For example, you could say “for every 5 small tasks I complete, I will buy myself that pair of shoes I’ve been wanting” or “when I complete my (1) big item, I will book a mini-vacation.” Rewarding yourself can be big or small. My favorite reward to give myself is simply: down time. It doesn’t cost me anything and it helps me unwind and recharge after all the energy I spent putting into erasing my hectic to-do list. Rewards are important to keep yourself motivated without over doing it/burning out. All in all, aim to cross off one thing from your list each week. Depending on the weight of your tasks, you might be able to accomplish more, and it even might take more time. It will all be up to you, which is probably the most anxiety provoking part. If you remember the To-Do List ‘Do’s”, you won’t have any problems conquering your goals. Take the time right now to make a list! Sunday’s are the best days to start.

Check out printabletodolist.com for a ton of lists you can print to get going instantly!




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