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How to Organize a To-Do List

So many things to do, so little time to do them. But life becomes a bit less overwhelming when all its tasks, chores, and responsibilities are written down in some sort of order. Which sort of order is best? That depends. The point of a to-do list is to make life clearer, not further complicate it, so try a few options to see which method of list-making helps you stay organized. Here are clever ways to organize your to-do list.

Personalize Your Method

There are practically limitless ways to compile all the things you need to do. Apps, calendars, notebooks, planners … the list goes on. Pick a list-making method that works with your life, whether it involves a smartphone, computer, or legal pad. Whatever makes a list appealing and functional for you, whether that’s pretty notebook paper or blaring alarms to keep you on track, go with it.

Your Organization / Meg MacDonald

Stay on Top of Your Day

The most important of all the tasks you have to complete are those that need to be done now. Each morning, or the night before, list everything that has to be done the coming day. You can use a daily checklist to schedule tasks. With some tasks, this can be done several days or weeks in advance, but others will pop up as the day goes on. Daily and weekly lists are not static; you’ll probably have to add and change things frequently.

Prioritize Your Tasks

Whether today’s chores or your goals for the next month, jot down or enter tasks in order from most to least urgent. If you don’t get to the ones that can wait until later, just move them to the next day’s or month’s list. Not crossing them off for a while doesn’t mean you’re failing at accomplishing things; in fact, it’s much better to write them down where you’ll see them than forget them until they do become priorities.

Your Organization / Meg MacDonald

Keep Categories Separate

Consider keeping separate to-do lists for various activities such as shopping (which can be broken down further into subcategories), cleaning, emails to send, topics to research, and so on. Other options are to have a work list and a home/family list, or a short-term and a long-term list. This especially helps if you are prone to listing things like books to read, places to visit, and music to buy. Giving each category a separate list prevents the movies you want to rent from getting lost on a page full of reminders like “clean the sink” and “make dentist appointment.”

Schedule Everything

Rather than simply amassing a bunch of tasks to get to “today” or “whenever,” some people benefit from scheduling everything in its own time slot. You can plot out your chores in a planner, app, or a blank notebook. This works well if you tend to look at your to-do list in the morning, decide you can do all of those things later in the day, and realize suddenly at 5:00 p.m. that you’ve gotten to none of them.

Your Organization / Meg MacDonald

Think Baby Steps

Don’t write “plan vacation” on a list. Even for an enjoyable process, that’s overwhelming. Instead, break it down into steps: “research hotels,” “buy guidebooks,” and “reserve rental car” are tasks you can count on yourself to accomplish without wasting your afternoon wandering off on vaguely vacation-related tangents.

This is when a daily routine comes in handy. If you have set times for regular, mundane tasks, you have a better chance of getting everything done.

Combine Approaches

Sometimes you might need to combine methods of list-keeping. That could mean using your smartphone calendar app for appointments and a little notebook for shopping lists. Or it could mean making daily lists as well as weekly plans. Don’t lock yourself into one method that sounds nice or that you think should work; adjust for what really does work in your own life.

Your Organization / Meg MacDonald

Use It or Lose It

This is not an organizing tip, but it might be the most crucial one: Once you’ve made your list, don’t forget to look at it. As thoroughly as you plan what to buy, who to call, or where to stop on the way home, you won’t do any of it unless you remember to use the list(s) you’ve made.

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