All Hail The Mighty To-Do List!

by Katy on November 4, 2015 · 39 comments

to-do list

I have enough self-awareness to know that if I’m not careful, I’ll let my day completely slip away. Whether it’s responding to blog comments, chatting on the phone with my sister or slipping into the Facebook abyss, it’s easy to waste a majority of my day. Mind you, I am not of the ilk that believes that every minute of every day needs to be accounted for, but I have a tendency get down in the dumps when nothing gets accomplished. So I keep myself on task.

When I have days off from work, I write to-do lists. On a yellow legal pad, making use of both sides of the paper. I draw little boxes to check off, and I break everything down into bite size chunks.

Need an example of how I break tasks down? Each load of laundry is broken into four steps:

  1. Put laundry in the wash.
  2. Switch laundry to dryer/hang dry.
  3. Fold laundry.
  4. Put laundry away.

The word “laundry” is both vague and uninspiring, but getting to check off four whole boxes is very satisfying. (Hey . . .  I do what I can to myself motivated to keep up with the mundane chores, okay?)

Today’s list might appear lengthy at first, but it’s mostly comprised of small tasks that would otherwise not find priority. It forces me to pace myself and takes away that “Crap, what am I supposed to be doing?” feeling. Instead of being oppressive, it’s actually freeing because it allows for downtime as I can look at the list and know that I’ve done everything that needed my time and attention. And because I hate transferring uncompleted tasks from one day to the next, it minimizes procrastination.

I know I’ve written about to-do lists before, but today is a special day. Why? Because today’s list was the last page of this particular legal pad. (Remember, it’s both front and back!)

Tomorrow I’ll start on a new legal pad. All crisp and new and full of promise.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

tonya parham November 4, 2015 at 12:45 pm

I’m fond of to do lists, myself.

I have to say, I like the idea of putting down all the parts of the laundry since they don’t all get done at one time and it gives a sense of having done a lot over the day. (That reminds me, I have clothes in the wash!)

I do have problems making grocery lists with pad and pen, though. I will forget the pad and the pen. I’ll take the paper but forget a pen to check things off. I’ve decided that simple is best for me and in order to simplify, I just put my grocery list (with what I need for each store AND what each store has that has the best price) on my notes app on my iphone. That way, I can check it off with an emoji and not only does it make me laugh, it’s less stuff to keep up with since I listen to podcasts or books while driving (through my car) or, if I have headphones, while shopping. In any case, I always have my phone with me!


Marci November 5, 2015 at 8:35 am

I do my to-do list in Notes…. it works so well because it’s on my phone and computer… I use Notes for everything! You’re the first person I’ve heard of that likes Notes for lists! How do you get the emoji in Notes?


tonya parham November 8, 2015 at 9:44 am

On the iphone it should just have the emoji button down there where you can switch the keyboard. It’s silly but I enjoy it!


A. Marie November 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Your lists are a lot more detailed than mine–but, hey, different strokes for different folks. I keep two “to-do” lists on the two halves of a folded-up sheet of scrap paper: one for general stuff to do, and one for stuff pertaining to my main special-interest group. Once most of the items on both lists are crossed off, I start another pair.

Lists for the two grocery stores and one warehouse club I use go on separate #10 envelopes (usually saved out of junk mail), with coupons for the respective stores tucked inside the envelopes. I don’t use many manufacturers’ coupons any more, but I still rely heavily on store coupons.


Katy November 4, 2015 at 1:19 pm

I do write my grocery lists on junk mail envelopes if I’ll be using coupons.


Marcy November 4, 2015 at 1:29 pm

It is quite amazing how much motivation one can get out of crossing stuff off a list.

That’s how I’ve been able to get through a year and a half of full time work, coupled with part time study. Every little task for study goes on my to-do list on my iPhone, and I feel quite positive about myself when I tick each off. If something isn’t on the list? On it goes.

Even though I love lists for tasks, I am terrible at using shopping lists for groceries. Even when I make one, I often forget to refer to it or leave it at home.


Vickey November 6, 2015 at 8:11 am

I’ve been known to put on my to-do list a reminder to bring items to return, or to bring and look at my grocery list. 🙂


K D November 4, 2015 at 1:37 pm

I accomplish a lot more when I have a list and nothing is too small a task to put on a list. I generally use scrap paper or even note things in my planner.

I almost always use a list when I go to the grocery/warehouse store.


April November 4, 2015 at 2:02 pm

I live by my lists too. I know enough to put them down and go with the flow from time to time, but they keep me on task otherwise!


marie November 4, 2015 at 2:23 pm

I make lists for my husband on the weekends. Things that I can’t do. He actually perfers a list, because he gets distracted easily


Marilyn November 4, 2015 at 2:40 pm

I too use a to-do list and I get a good deal of satisfaction from crossing off the various items. Sometimes the only thing that gets me to the dentist is an entry on my to-do list: “Make dental appt.”. I honestly think that I would never go to the dentist if it weren’t for my to-do list.


marieann November 4, 2015 at 2:53 pm

I love making to do lists and crossing things off.
That’s why the first thing on my to do list is:
Make a list


NMPatricia November 4, 2015 at 2:58 pm

After seeing how you did this before, I have tried it. Breaking things down nearly incrementally helps me. Also putting some fun things on the list just makes it a bit whimsical. Have to do that Sudoko in the paper in the morning. We chose to get the newspaper, so I sort of make believe that the Sudoko in the paper is “free”. I have my list to do along with boxes, written on the back of already used paper. Thanks, Katy.


Cheyanne November 4, 2015 at 3:24 pm

OH YEAH. When I make to-do lists, it’s for things like “1. Wash Dishes, 2. Clean sink, 3. Clean counter-tops, 4. Sweep kitchen floor, 5. Mop kitchen floor” aaaaaaaaaaand repeat for each room I plan to clean. Ha! 🙂 It’s super satisfying to cross ALL that stuff off!


Ann November 4, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Love lists. I keep mine on a 3×5 card. I cross out…but I love your check boxes!


tonya parham November 8, 2015 at 9:46 am

I like index cards for lists too.

I’ve always said that with enough lists, I could rule the world!


Kathy November 4, 2015 at 3:56 pm

I love lists and have several at a time. I have to do pen and paper. I have tried many times to use my fancy iPhone, but find checking it more effort than it’s worth. I also use a yellow legal pad and a clip board for my daily list. I could never use the cute little check boxes. I have to draw a big line through the project when I complete each one. No cute check marks for me. Reminds me too much of a controlled school environment. Yes, I was a scribbler that never stayed within the lines and I still run with scissors. Whatever blows your hair back I guess.


KT November 4, 2015 at 4:49 pm

When I was still teaching, I came up with the perfect solution for me. When I was in school, I’d think of something I needed to bring from home for a lesson the next day. While I was at home, I’d remember something that I needed to do at school the following day or even week. So I got one of the soft-covered composition books that we provided the students.

On the first page, I put 2 address stickers – one had my home address, the other had my school address. As I turned the page, I wrote the date/day (of the next day, the day I would begin using it) on the top left corner of the left page and the next day/date on the top right hand corner of the right page. I continued this for the 5 weekdays. The 6th page was split vertically: Sat. on left 1/2 and Sun. on right 1/2. I continued this process until every page was dated.

Then I went back to the beginning and folded every single page in 1/2 vertically. I printed “School” at the top of the left column and “Home” at the top of the right column.

During the day, I would fill in things I needed to do in one place or the other, with boxes to check off, of course. I used pencil for ordinary reminders, but red ink to designate meetings and times. I carried this book with me always during the school day, otherwise it lived in my purse. So that it would not accidentally get mixed in with the students’ composition books, I covered it with wrapping paper, changing it when worn or if it was a special season or holiday. The children loved seeing it and watched for the new cover!

To bookmark the current day, I taped a length of ribbon to the top of the spine (on the back) and used it like ribbons you see in Bibles or hymnals in church. For my convenience, I Xeroxed the school calendar year in a very reduced size and taped it inside the front cover.

That book was such a life saver! Others copied the idea. I befriended a young teacher who was returning from a maternity leave. She was so stressed, she was complaining daily of migraines. I made a book for her and it made all the difference in the world for her! After just 2 weeks she came to me, grinning and said that her husband wanted to thank me, too! LOL!

Obviously this is not for everyone, but it was the perfect solution for me. Nothing like emptying minutae from your brain onto paper. Very calming to not have to try to remember everything and end up with a headache.


tonya parham November 8, 2015 at 9:47 am

Man, I’d love to see a pic of that!


Bobbi November 4, 2015 at 4:56 pm

I LOVE my detailed to-do lists! I can also fall into what you called the Facebook abyss — it’s a real thing, I’ve been there many times! My to-do list today saved me! I wrote it on the back of a letter to be recycled and it has 17 items on it. Most are really small like “call Ernie back” and “write check for piano”. The bigger ones are about work appointments, like “4pm client”. I’m excited that 14 of the 17 are crossed off, and in a couple hours they will all be done!


AFS November 4, 2015 at 5:10 pm

I have to make myself check lists like yours too. It not only keeps me on task but at the end of the day I can see that I actually accomplished something. Without this method, I get to the end of the day and wonder what I did with my time.
I rescued about a dozen partly to mostly used legal pads from a dumpster. You’re right they work well for this purpose. Being yellow helps me not misplace my to do list.


Betty Winslow November 4, 2015 at 5:24 pm

I read somewhere about a master list that they call a “minddump” – you write down EVERYTHING, large or small, that needs to be done in your life on a numbered list (mine is also on a legal pad), breaking large projects into steps, and then daily run through it, pulling out things you plan to do that day and crossing them off once you’re done with them. It’s really freeing to know that it’s all written down and nothing will be forgotten. I love my master list.


Lucy November 4, 2015 at 5:35 pm

I have a Mind Dump notebook. I was having trouble getting to sleep and my doc suggested it. Works!


Amy November 4, 2015 at 8:21 pm

I need to start a separate Master List – the stuff that I don’t get done every day has a tendency to get lost in my day-planner. I can still use the dated day-planner for appointments and other items that belong to a specific day and time.


Lucy November 4, 2015 at 5:34 pm

I make a weekly list. It is divided into House, Barn, Outside, Errands, and Calls/Emails sections. Each night I go over it and select items for the next day and put check boxes next to them, then the next day I check them off. I do the list in pencil except for appointments which are written in pen with the day and time in place of the check box. It usually takes an entire sheet of lined paper with two columns which I fold and put in my pocket along with a stubby pencil.

I also have a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly schedule posted on whiteboard in the house and in the barn. Sometimes I just get stuck and need a reminder!

No list = nothing done.


Diane November 4, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I love chore lists! I have a spiral notebook where I write my lists and cross off each task I complete…very gratifying to look back and see what I’ve done every day. I write my list the night before and it eases me mind so I can sleep knowing I have set my intention for the next day.


Isabelle November 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Ah, the “to-do lists”! While I once believed I couldn’t live without them, I found out fast 2 things about them:
– There is ALWAYS something to add to it, therefore it’s never over
– They are stressing me out, more than helping me
So out of my life they went!!
And, funny enough, I seem to be functioning fully without them. I guess my tasks are pretty repetitive and/or I’ve got an efficient memory…


tonya parham November 8, 2015 at 9:49 am

You know, I get this– I can do the to do list but the attempts I have made to keep a calendar or a day planner have only served to frustrate me and stress me out!

And I’ve wasted lots of money buying those stupid calendars too– only to never use them! GARRRR!


Isabel November 4, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Adore This Present I have written on book friend gave me to use for Things To Do/Shopping List! I have about four books on the go for Lists and reminders!
I can remember having and making lists since school days! Follow them much better these days……can always change them if I want to …. Not written in stone!
Find them like good little helpful companions! Also have a lot of empty back up books should the need arise!


JD November 5, 2015 at 6:36 am

I don’t do lists, but a friend of mine lived by hers — she and I both went back to finish college while working full-time and dealing with husbands and small children. She had nearly every minute of her day planned on her list, while I was a “wing-it” person. [I may not be too talented at winging it, either — I once forgot my baby at the babysitter’s because I was thinking about too much other stuff to do on the way home. But, hey, I graduated and she’s grown now and has forgiven me. 🙂 ] Clearly, list-making depends on the person; list-making worked great for her, but I failed miserably when I tried it. I admire the ability to make and stick to lists, but I don’t seem to have it, except in certain circumstances, such as planning a big dinner for company.
What really floats my boat is the opportunity to have a fresh, new, clean, notebook! Katy gets to start a new notebook! Alright! I loved getting new notebooks when school started, and I still have to fight the urge to get them just because, nowadays. Pens and pencils that write smoothly and darkly, and fresh notebooks. What more could a person want?


Tina November 5, 2015 at 6:41 am

Oooh, I am the same person! New notebooks are the best, and for me it’s a thin-tipped blue ballpoint. I actually have my own box of them at work which no-one else is allowed to use!


Jenn Tate November 5, 2015 at 7:22 am

I am obsessed with to do lists. I have to get organized and feel great when things are crossed off and it gets smaller and smaller every day.
I never thought of breaking it down further. I do find myself doing the easiest things first and leaving the more difficult things for last not getting these accomplished. I also will reward myself (1 hour of TV) if I get things done, or a bubble bath, after a task is complete.


Jennifer November 5, 2015 at 8:25 am

I keep lists on the notebook on my phone so I don’t have to use any paper, mostly. I have multiple lists that stay on my phone such as Thanksgiving grocery list, Christmas lists, vacation/camping list, Login codes and password list(don’t worry I don’t write then exact, just put keywords to jog my memory)etc. We tend to do a lot of the same things each year so having a “master” lists that I can add or take away from comes in handy. I do make smaller lists for things like daily tasks and groceries.We have plenty of junk mail or backs of old receipts I use for that.


Cristie Glasheen November 5, 2015 at 8:54 am

As a productivity and time management coach (some people do need a bit of help with that), I’ve fallen in love with Habitica dot com for managing to-dos and building habits. It’s a free online site that lets you play your life like a role-playing-game, where completing activities in your to-do list allows you to gain experience and level up your character. You can join guilds and parties to get moral support and do special challenges/quests for rewards. You can even battle monsters (like the recently vanquished Burn-out Spirit). I haven’t been using it long but I’m having a thoroughly fun time of it so far and I’ve recommended it to several of my clients who are also making good use of it.


Katy November 5, 2015 at 10:34 am

I can see why that would work well for some people. But since I’m OLD, I never did gaming, so this would be super unappealing to me.


Cristie Glasheen November 5, 2015 at 10:48 am

True, it does have a certain mindset.


Vickie November 5, 2015 at 9:12 am

I’m a lister too, for years now. Hubby thinks it’s funny, but I can get off task so easy and then I don’t accomplish what I intended to in the first place. It was maddening!
As a matter of fact, if I don’t create a list, I will start several tasks and possibly not complete even one of them! When I realized several years back that’s the only way I could stay on task, wasting a few pieces of paper is minor compared to getting nothing done.

I have to do the same with shopping/errand tasks – I write down where I’m going and what I’m doing/getting there. That way I don’t waste time or gas. Such as today – I have to pick-up oats for the horse at the feed store, then go by Aldis to get blueberries for my morning breakfast mix. Then to the Library to pick-up two books I have on hold.
The way I’ve ordered my errand run is a big circle, since the Library is closest to where I work and gets me back to work at the end of my lunch break.

After lunch, I’ll make a list of tasks I need to get done at home tonight. I love my lists, I can actually SEE what I accomplish. It keeps me happy.


Ruby November 5, 2015 at 11:42 am

I don’t use daily to-do lists now that I’m not working, but do rather complex grocery shopping lists because each store has certain items that are the best deal. To prevent distraction while shopping, I arrange each list by the layout of the store.


Sofia @ Currentlylovingsimplicity November 6, 2015 at 4:25 am

Oh I think I need to try breaking down my task into more specific instructions. I totally see how I would be much more likely to acutally do them that way…


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