Keeping your to-do list from undoing you

to do undoing you

I have a new obsession.


Never in my life have I been a to-do list person. Generally, whenever I make one, it gets longer and longer and LONGER until I’m reduced to a cowering heap of tears before the 20-mile long list of things that I have to do and I WILL NEVER GET IT ALL DONE.

Sound familiar? I can’t be the only one, right?

But the other day, I was sitting there thinking of alllll the projects I have going and how I felt like I wasn’t finishing any of them and they were all hanging over my head like an ominous cloud of fire and molten lava.

So, in an effort to keep my stack of projects from falling over and crushing the life force out of me, I made a list of all the projects I needed to finish in the near future (like, before December).

It was not twenty miles long, which was encouraging. But I looked at that list and thought, “I’m never going to be able to check any of these off. EVER.”

“But,” said a smarter voice in my head that was not my own, “you could check off the progress you’ve made.”

And in that moment, an obsessive checklister was born. I set the list of big projects to the side and made a list of what I could do the next day to get closer to checking off another project on my big list.

It’s been a life-changer. I can see the progress I’m making, and I feel less overwhelmed at all the big things I have to do because I can see the small things adding up. Here are a couple of checklist tips that have helped me feel the motivation without feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Make your list the night before. This might seem counterintuitive, because nighttime is when we are most prone to feeling overwhelmed. But making my checklist the night before enables to me identify what’s stressing me out, put into words what I will do to fix it, and then set it aside for tomorrow.
  2. Use verbs and get specific. I used to just make quick notes of things I wanted to work on–manuscript, plot map, guitar. But how do you check off a noun? What does it even mean?! Once I started using verbs, I found myself making concrete goals that were more satisfying to fulfill. (e.g. finish writing a chapter, practice guitar for fifteen minutes)
  3. Include something that’s part of your routine. That way, you know you’ll check SOMETHING off your list. For me, it’s dishes. It might be something like brushing your teeth or getting your kids dressed. Checking that simple task off is totally motivating to get some more things checked off.
  4. Include something fun. To-do lists don’t have to be all the things you dread doing. I’ll add in things like playing with the kids or posting on Instagram. It makes my list much less intimidating.
  5. Put it somewhere you can see it and check things off throughout the day. If it goes in your desk drawer, how are you ever going to remember what you wrote down?! Also, as I mentioned (several times) above, the act of checking something off my list is so motivating for me to be able to check more things off my list.
  6. Know your limits. Make a list of what you can do that day. Don’t put on everything you want to do ever, because we all know that’s not going to happen, and it’s not going to be helpful for your psyche. I try to keep my list between 6-10 items, because I know it’s not realistic for me to work on every project I have AND take care of kids AND make dinner AND do dishes AND AND AND. Pick a few things you can do that day and tell yourself that you can work on other things tomorrow.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up over unchecked boxes. I think I’ve had one day since my checklisting started that I actually checked every box. It was amazing. But it’s just not the norm. Things come up, the phone rings, good weather calls, and sometimes you’re just tired. It’s okay. Focus on the boxes you did check. They are solid proof that you accomplished something.

There you have it! All my checklist wisdom. How do you feel about checklists? Any tips you want to add on what works for you?

2 thoughts on “Keeping your to-do list from undoing you

  1. Lists. I have write stuff down or I forget I need to do it. Age! And I hear ya about to do lists that rival Jack’s beanstalk. I try to keep my lists down to things I can manage in a day or so, like you. And I justify a bit of chocolate at the end of the day by actually checking stuff off my list. If I did really good, I might add some ice cream 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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