The Power Of To-Do Lists

Never underestimate the power of the To-Do list.

With the ever-present negativity surrounding grocery and “honey-do” lists, this form of organization tends to get a bad rap. But I want to argue that making a list is one of the simplest things you can do in order to make your life infinitely easier. Not only does the To-Do list help you to get your thoughts down on paper, but the act of ticking, checking, or crossing off one task after another is surprisingly satisfying.

Whether you’re a student in the middle of midterms, job searches, interviews, extra-curricular activities, and social events, or a semi-professional member of the real world who’s juggling working, paying bills, oil changes, and your four-year-old niece’s birthday party, the To-Do list is there for you every step of the way every hour of the day.

I reserve the corners and margins of my planner for several To-Do lists per week and I can honestly say that, despite getting fewer hours of sleep Sunday through Friday than I’d like, I’ve managed to retain most of my sanity thanks to these lists.

So I repeat: Never underestimate the power of the To-Do list. And here’s why:

To-Do lists consolidate your tasks.

I have a very hard time organizing things mentally; I need to see things physically written down on paper in order to better conceptualize what I need to do and how I should get it done. I’ve realized that often half the battle of getting things done is remembering exactly what I need to do. Believe me when I say that once you write down all of the day’s tasks it’s much easier to look at them with a critical eye. Maybe that grocery run isn’t as important today as some of the other things on your list; maybe you can stop by the bank on your way to that meeting; maybe seeing your tasks written on the back of a napkin makes them much less intimidating. Whatever the case, being able to look at what needs to be done will give you a better sense of when and how to go about doing it.

To-Do lists help you prioritize.

When I begin making my lists, I try to write down the things that are going to take the most time or are the most crucial to get done early. Once I have these down, I may fill in a few smaller tasks below, but I don’t let myself sweat the small stuff until the important things are done. And, as I mentioned earlier, the small things may not seem so crucial once you compare them to the bigger tasks. Having a visual reminder of the hierarchy of importance for your daily tasks is surprisingly helpful—just work from the top down and complete one thing at a time. No matter how you organize your list, whether by the amount of time required or the time-sensitivity of each task, you’ll breathe easier once you know you’ve gotten the important stuff out of the way and it’s all a downhill run after that.

To-Do lists motivate.

My preferred method of listing is to accompany each task with a small empty box to be filled upon that task’s completion. I like to look at these boxes as a challenge. How am I going to fill up as many boxes as I can in the next six hours? To me, it’s more motivating to try to gain something—a small red check—than crossing through the task, but do what works for you. (I’ve even heard of people treating themselves to a Hershey kiss each time they get something done in a day!) Take a moment to think about how you want to tackle these chores and what you want to gain from doing so, and go to it!

To-Do lists let you cheat (in a good way).

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On days I need a little confidence boost, I’ll go back and add tasks I’ve already done to my To-Do list just to have a little extra to cross off at the end of the day. These extra chores range anywhere from “Take a nap” to “Shower” to “Eat breakfast” to “Paint Nails” to “BREATHE!!!!” Even though these things aren’t particularly demanding they’re still important. Whether you add these later or place them on your list in the morning, remember to take time for yourself because you are just as important as everything else you have to take care of!

To-Do lists satisfy.

My favorite thing about To-Do lists is looking at them when they’re completed. Sometimes when I feel like I haven’t done enough on a certain day, I flip back through my planner and scan pages after pages of red check marks and strikes as a reminder that I have done enough in the past few days to deserve a day or two to relax. But even checking off a task in the moment produces a temporary smugness that might be all you need to tackle the rest of your chores. With each checkmark, remind yourself what you’ve accomplished, knowing it’s one more thing you don’t have to deal with for the day. Don’t blow off checking or crossing off the item on your list even when you know what you’ve completed. The actual act of eliminating tasks from your list is a wonderful stress reliever and a physical reminder of your progress. Despite what you think, you are making progress.

No matter what items your To-Do list contains, remember, you don’t have to be Super Woman. Be satisfied with what you do accomplish in a day because something is always more than nothing!

How do you To-Do? Let us know, Darlings, by tweeting @litdarling

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