We’ve all been there: you have a list of things to do in your head, but really all you want to do is play video games/nap/see your friends/curl up on the couch with a book. “I’ll do it later,” you think, and suddenly it’s 10pm, the day is over, and you’re left with nothing to show for your day except guilt and regret.
Hashtag relatable, amirite?
I was like that, too. On my days off, I would promise myself I’d get to writing or planning out my next novel, only to spend the next seven hours playing Dragon Age or Horizon Zero Dawn. Although I love games and it’s completely fine to spend your day gaming every now and then, it started to become a bad habit, and the deeper you are into a bad habit, the harder it is to get yourself out.
When we moved to Musashi-Kosugi, it felt like a fresh start in a fresh new apartment. However, I don’t believe that moving somewhere new really got me organised. What did sort me out was something ancient and extremely simple, yet more effective than I ever could have imagined: the to-do list.
Do it. Do it right now. Open Google Docs in another tab. Label it with tomorrow’s date (or today’s date if it’s still early while you’re reading this) and write a list of things you need to do. Done right, it can help you be more productive than you could ever have guessed.
Here are some tips on your to-do list and how to stick to it.
1. Make it Realistic
There’s no use sticking eight hours’ worth of solid work onto your list. Start off slow – maybe add one or two things such as “pick up the children from school” and “write 500 words of new book.” Even things you were planning to do anyway should be on there.
Adding too much to your list can just make you feel more overwhelmed than ever, and you’ll end up getting none of it done at all.
2. Add Easy Things for Momentum
I always start my to-do list with two things: “make coffee” and “kiss my husband.” Both of these things are easy and part of my morning routine. When you already have two items on your list ticked, it’s much easier to get started on the next. At the time of writing this article, I’ve already finished the first two things, getting me mentally ready for the third (which was writing this).
You might have an enormous amount of things to do: housework, personal projects, freelance projects, things you simply can’t put off, and things you could probably put off for another week. Think about what needs to be done now.
For instance, do you have a paper that has a deadline? Get that done before working on your personal project.
4. Start Early
On days where I’m not working at my day job, I try to start the things on the list at or before 9:00am. That way, by lunchtime I have already finished three or four things on the list.
Starting early, when possible, also gives you the evening to do whatever you want, completely guilt-free. You’ll feel much better when you’ve had a productive day. You may even feel motivated to do more work, but be sure to take a rest, too. Playing Dying Light in the evening is way more enjoyable after a day of getting stuff done.
5. Be Specific
Adding things like “work on new book” or “practise guitar” is all well and good, but be sure to have concrete goals. Add exactly what you want to get done that day. For example, when working on a proofreading project, I’ll aim to edit 25 pages as one task, which will usually take an hour or so. That way, when the 25 pages are up, the task is ‘finished’ and I can rest for a bit.
Some people may rather put time instead of tasks (for example, “proofread for one hour”), but I personally think tasks are more important. You can easily get distracted by your phone, making tea, or whatever else, and the hour can waste away rather than being a time slot of solid work.
6. Allow Time to Rest… But Not Too Much
Allow small breaks, but stick to them. If a break is fifteen minutes, make it fifteen minutes. You may find your motivation is high after completing tasks on your list, though, so feel free to power through if you want to! I’ve found that ticking tasks from my lists just makes me feel more motivated to start with the next one.
Never feel guilty for taking a break, though. Sometimes your mind needs a short break to refuel. Just be sure that your break doesn’t accidentally turn into three hours of nothing.
7. Add Variety
Dedicating a day to your main hobby, task, or skill development is all well and good, but you’re going to burn out quickly if you just have “work on thesis for eight hours” on your list. Here is a quick example list for a student working on her dissertation.
- Have breakfast
- Take a shower and get dressed
- Write 300 words of dissertation
- Vacuum room
- Plan second half of essay
- Call Mum
- Email lecturer about deadline
etc, etc, etc.
Breaking up your list into various kinds of bitesize tasks makes it a lot less overwhelming. You also get a lot more done in your day. It’s surprising how much can be achieved in less than twelve hours.
8. Make Your List the Night Before
Don’t wait until morning to make the list for that day! Before you go to bed, make a clear, easy-to-follow list for the following day, complete with easy tasks like eating meals and showering. That way, when you wake up, you can get started with task 1 with a clear mind.
You may be surprised at how much you can get done with a simple to-do list. In the time I’ve been making a daily list, I’ve completed writing assignments that I’d kept putting off, planned out previously difficult details of a book I’m writing, and proofread a huge chunk of a novel for a client. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a list-less life, and you shouldn’t, either.
So what are you waiting for? I want to see your to-do list for tomorrow! Get cracking!