So, it's January and "getting your sh*t together" is at the top of your to-do list with the rest of your New Year's resolutions. We've all been there. We all are here. We'll all be back here again next year, probably. And that's okay! Life doesn't happen in a vacuum. New circumstances arise that can throw even the best laid of plans.
That being said, with over a decade under our belt, we've gathered a few tips and tricks for taking your to-do list from overwhelming to organized.
Tips to write better to-do lists:
Keep it simple
Ah, the Golden Rule of Organization (nobody calls it that). When in doubt, you can always fall back on the KISS principle. Use simple, clear language and phrasing on your to-do list and try to avoid any jargon or complex language. Treat your energy like a finite resource (see ego depletion) and don't expend it on deciphering needless complexity that you bake in yourself.
Keep it short
To-do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. We've all seen those lists that are a wall of text. That works for some but for a lot of people it's anxiety-inducing. Keep your tasks to a realistic number of things you can complete in a day. Figuring out what that number is will be an ongoing exercise but you can always start with less and add more.
If you're new to organizing, 1) welcome and 2) start with 3-5 must-dos for each day, then log any additional things you completed at the end of a day to hone in on what manageable means for you.
Remember, your cognitive energy is a limited resource! Don't waste valuable time and brain power sitting there trying to recall what you meant when you wrote down "bank" six days ago. Be specific about what needs to get done and what you'll be working on.
"write better to-do lists blog" instead of "blog post"
For the to-do list utilitarians, use action verbs to make tasks more actionable rather than just the object itself, "deposit check" vs. "bank." Think verbs like "call," write," "send," etc. Write to-dos in the present tense so you know what needs to be done now rather than in the future. For the more mindful doers out there, your to-do list is another avenue to examine how you speak to your inner self. Beck Tench, a Ph.D. from the University of Washington Information School, proposes a gentler approach to writing your to-do lists. Rather than writing to-dos as cold commands, Tench writes to-dos as intentions to practice future-self compassion, e.g., "call dad on his birthday" becomes "don't forget to celebrate your dad on his birthday." This approach takes more time and thought but lets you practice kindness to yourself. Read the full blog here.
Keep it visible
Whether it's digital or on a sheet of paper, you'll want your to-do list somewhere that's easy to access. We've all heard the saying, "out of sight, out of mind," right? The harder it is to get to, the harder it'll be to get things done. Put your to-do list in a visible spot, like your desktop or refrigerator, so that you can refer to it easily and stay on track.
TeuxDeux users, you can create a desktop shortcut to keep your lists separate from the sea of open tabs in your browser.
Whether this is your first or your 41st attempt at getting organized, following these simple rules-of-thumb will help you get and stay organized in a way that is simple to sustain. Remember, getting organized is a long game and the best organization system is one you'll actually keep up with, and we're firmly in the camp that simple stays organized.