I have a firm personal belief: to do lists are important and everyone should use them.
Well maybe not everyone everyone. But a solid 95%.
Let me put it this way:
If you’re a student, you need a to do list.
It’s that simple.
Allow me for the next few minutes of your life to get on my pixelated soap box and preach to you the good news of To Do Lists: why they’re important, how to keep one, and some apps you might find useful in your quest for life organization.
Why a To Do List is Important
First and foremost, a to do list will keep you organized.
It’s almost magical. You start a list of the stuff you want to get done, and before you know it you’re basically Marie Kondo.
But seriously, a to do list is sort of like laying a foundation for having anything resembling an organized life.
A properly formed to do list also helps keep your priorities straight.
For me, that’s God, family, my job, building a business. Your mileage may vary.
But keeping a list makes sure that I not only make time for those important things, but also finish things in time to actually have time.
A good to do list also keeps you from getting distracted.
When you’ve got a list of five things staring you in the face, five things that you’ve identified as the Top Five Things That Need Doing Today, suddenly playing Xbox seems less important.
When you’ve allocated the next thirty minutes of your life to study anatomy vocabulary flashcards using spaced repetition, it’s a lot less tempting to browse Instagram. If you do browse Instagram, though, come say hi!
Most importantly, though (at least in my humble but accurate opinion), is that a to do list will give you peace of mind.
Imagine never having to worry about forgetting things ever again.
No nagging “I feel like there’s something due tomorrow but I’m not sure what” feeling in the back of your brain.
No more “Ugh I forgot about that worksheet and now I have to spend tonight doing it instead of using those two tickets to That Thing I Love.”
All because of a simple to do list.
How to Keep a To Do List
It’s super easy.
“Just do it.”Nike and Shia LeBeouf
Seriously. Just start one. That’s really 90% of the battle.
Once you’ve started one, though, there are three principles to abide by to make sure that your list is as effective as possible.
Principle 1: Write Down Everything
You might be tempted to hear something and go “Oh, I’ll remember that.”
No you won’t.
Write it down.
Write down everything and you’ll never forget anything.
Principle 2: Sort By Priorities
This is easy to do if you’re keeping a to do list on an app or your phones notes. Just drag things around.
If you’re on paper, though, it’s a little harder and you gotta get creative.
My first recommendation for you analog folks is to use the ABCD method. This is basically where you tag your to do list items with an A if they’re hyper important and ultra urgent. These are the “Do Taxes” entries you write on April 14th.
D entries are the “find cute new shoes for prom” entries when you’re in eighth grade.
B and C are everything in between.
You could also use the quadrant method. On a whiteboard or something, divide things into quarters thusly:
|Important and Urgent||Important and Not Urgent|
|Urgent and Not Important||Not Important and Not Urgent|
Divide your to do list accordingly. After that, use common sense. Easy peasy.
Principle 3: Break things into smaller chunks.
Yes, you could put “Write Master’s Thesis” on your to do list.
But would that really be a good idea? (Hint: the answer is no)
You ideally want the items on your to do list to take no longer than around half an hour. The reason for this is twofold.
First, as humans, we like doing things. Checking stuff off. Getting likes on our tweets.
These small victories give us a tiny dopamine rush, and we actually get addicted to them. By breaking your to do list down into smaller, more regularly manageable chunks, you’ll actually — get this — become addicted to getting things done.
The other reason is less scientific and more down-to-earth: bite-sized to do list items work well with the Pomodoro Technique. And if you don’t know what the Pomodoro Technique is, go check out that article I just linked. It’ll sort of change your life.
What To Do List App?
“Okay, I’m sold!” I imagine you say. “What app should I use to keep a to do list on?”
Great imaginary question.
Actually it’s sort of a lousy question, because my first, knee-jerk answer is “it doesn’t matter!” But I wouldn’t actually answer that. Only in that imaginary conversation.
In real life, I’d be all helpful and tell you that the first and probably easiest way is via good old paper and pencil. Or pen if you’re all hipster.
I’d recommend keeping two lists, actually. One full list with everything, and one smaller, daily list that you take with you on a notecard or Post-It note.
If you do want an app recommendation, I highly recommend using Trello. You can keep multiple “boards” and lists on those boards, keep sub-lists within lists, add time trackers and sync it with a calendar … the benefits are absurd, and you owe it to yourself to at least check it out. I use it every single day and it has yet to not be able to do something I want it to do.
Beyond that, the “leaders” in the to do list app industry (yes, it’s a thing) are Todoist and probably TickTick. They’re pretty similar, but both include the same basic functionality as Trello: you can keep a to do list on them.
If you’re a student and use Microsoft OneNote already for organizing notes, give it a shot for keeping a synced to do list. It already has a built-in checklist feature. Just make a new page, add stuff to it, and you’re good to go.
Finally, if you have an Amazon Alexa device, you can sync that with Todoist and Any.do. Using IFTTT.com, you can even send things to your Trello to do list, just by saying, “Hey Alexa, add running a marathon to my to do list.” It’s a great way to ensure you never forget to do things.
Take It Away…
Ultimately, a to do list is all about getting your life just a little more organized so that you can keep your priorities straight, stay focused, and worry less.
Write everything down on your list, sort it by priorities and break things into small, manageable chunks.
And use whatever app you like, even if the app is a scrap of paper you tore from a grocery bag because you’d rather kill a tree than strangle a bird.
To do lists are important because — if you simply start using one — they have the power to change your life.