7 Steps to a Less Stressful To-Do List

This holiday season, as with all holiday seasons before it, Santa was fast at work making his list and checking it twice. When it comes to list making, he is the master. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to be responsible for and track each person’s naughty or nice status and cross-reference it with what he or she wants? Even with the most advanced Excel skills, this would be a daunting task. But each year that jolly old elf manages to do it and, presumably, maintains everything he needs to in his own life.

Frankly, I don’t know how he does it. Or, I don’t know how he does it and maintains such a jolly disposition. As a working mom with a full-time job, I also spend my days making lists, but rarely do I ever get back to checking them twice. How does one find time for that? Rather than checking them, I am constantly adding to them, making multiple ones, and trying to keep my work thoughts at work and my home thoughts at home. Before the day is through, I typically forgo the list. It’s just another item I have to do. It’s become quite obvious that I’m doing it wrong.

So, how does one make a list that’s worth checking twice and actually helps? I knew the answer had to live in Google somewhere, so I began looking. It turns out, it did have the answer! Or actually, lots of answers. I’ve complied those I felt were most helpful here. Have your own techniques that work? We’d love to hear about them!

  1. Use the list for only to-dos. There shouldn’t be any notes or ideas on your list. If there are, it will just be a representation of your cluttered mind, not a helpful tool. On the flip side, you can’t focus on to-dos with a cluttered mind, which leads to the next tip.
  2. Find a place to “mind dump” all of your ideas and notes. I use a Passion Planner, which I love.
  3. Make the list the night before. If you’re like me at the end of the night, the lingering to-dos on your list are still bouncing around in your head. Take what you couldn’t accomplish that day, forgive yourself, and move them to the list for tomorrow.
  4. Include on your list only things you think you can get done that day. This is my biggest downfall. As we all know, the list of mom to-dos never ends. Trying to capture them all makes everything seem more daunting than it needs to be, creates a mental block, and adds to more stress.
  5. Do not include projects. Projects belong on your list of ideas and notes. The to-do list should only include those steps that you think can accomplish toward that project each day.
  6. Accomplish the big tasks first before starting on the more menial tasks. At work, this can mean finishing a project that is due before getting stuck on emails. At home, it could be getting the vacuuming out of the way before getting stuck in the never-ending tasks of dishes or laundry.
  7. If there is one item on your list that is bugging you, just do it! If you find that a task keeps getting bumped from day to day and it starts causing you stress, make that the first thing you do the next day and get that brain space back!


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