To-do List Mistakes and How to Get Your Life Organized

You feel the urge to write a to-do list. You know you have things to do and start writing down your tasks, which soon become a long list. The list seems complete, and you are determined to do everything on the list by the end of the day. As the day goes, you complete one task after another, crossing them off the list; then things change. You have new tasks that add up to the list, which keeps getting longer and longer, including things to buy and weekend chores. Towards the end of the day, you realize that you lost track of your tasks and decide to start anew.

It is only one of many trial and error stories when we talk about to-do lists. I, myself, have written many to-do lists, but how long does a to-do list last? Less than a day. People like to use planners, but how many people actually use every page of the planner they bought at the beginning of the year? Not me. That is why I choose to write lists, rather than keeping a notebook--I’m not self-disciplined enough to keep a year planner. For those of you who have the same problem or have trouble working from home, I have my advice on writing a to-do list and how to get your life organized. Check out the following list and see if you are making the same mistakes. 


To-do List Mistakes and How to Get Your Life Organized

1. All Purpose Do-do List

The all-purpose to-do list is the kind of list that has everything you can possibly think of when it comes to your tasks. It lists things to buy, places to go, and work to do. This kind of list helps you throw out your duties and tasks and make sure you don’t forget; however, it lacks the two most important elements in organization: category and priority. Without categorization, in this case, the list becomes a collection of tedious duties and chores, which can be overwhelming when they are put together. The purpose of making a to-do list is not just to complete your duties and tasks but to accomplish goals you set to improve your life, and what you are aiming for is to manage your time wisely on the way to reach the goals. For the sake of productivity, you need multiple lists for different goals, which may be related to your work, health, house chores, and many others.


To-do List Mistakes and How to Get Your Life Organized

2. Random Act To-do

Categories may be created equal, but not all tasks are. Once the categorization is complete, you may be tempted to do certain tasks before others based on the levels of your interest, convenience, and urgency, and this is where prioritization comes to play an important role. As mentioned at the beginning, your tasks are stepping stones to accomplishing the goals you set for your life. Those goals can be as short-term as a day and as long-term as a year or life-long. Depending on your planning, some of the tasks can be given more flexibility, and other tasks may require immediate actions not because they are more important or urgent, but because they are daily duties that must be done in order to keep our life going. For this reason, you must prioritize your tasks based on daily, weekly, and monthly goals so that you don’t put tasks that have more flexibility before things that need immediate actions. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging you to procrastinate the tasks that have more flexibility. What I’m saying is that you can set the priority by deciding which goal requires an immediate action.


To-do List Mistakes and How to Get Your Life Organized-Out of Sight, Out of Mind

3. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

We tend to keep our do-to lists on a mobile application or a planner so that it is easier to carry around for the day, but how often do we take out the lists and make sure we are on track? Probably, fewer than 5 times a day. We tend to forget about the lists, but more accurately, nobody wants to take out the lists constantly as if they are obsessed with checking their tasks. We want to feel like we are on top of our work and have control over our life, not to be hurried and frustrated by it, which is the reason why we write to-do lists. The lists, once they are categorized and prioritized, must be posted or placed where they are easily noticeable, and accessibility is the key to keep you reminded of your duties, tasks, and goals. Because we are very forgetful, we tend to forget things that are not physically present with us. However, the accessibility is not only a physical property but also an emotional one. Instead of writing to-do lists on a piece of scrap paper, write them somewhere you can emotionally attach yourself and visualize your goals. Without easy access, what we’re getting out of the to-do lists is the satisfaction of writing down our tasks, not writing off the tasks we’ve completed. 


To-do List Mistakes and How to Get Your Life Organized-To-do List Mistakes and How to Get Your Life Organized

4. Obsolete Mundane Tasks

A daily to-do list becomes obsolete after a day, but strangely enough it is still valid because many of our daily tasks are similar. It does not mean that we can use the same list for several days because updating the list works as a reminder of our tasks and goals for each day. Writing a daily to-do list may feel tedious especially when the tasks are not much different--or simply writing everyday is. However, by writing the to-do list everyday (I recommend writing it the night before), you are making a resolution once again and updating your tasks with the latest input and output of your life. You may exclude habitual and already routinized duties and tasks, but including them is helpful if you are doing them to accomplish a goal or for a purpose. Apart from monthly and yearly goals, your daily and weekly tasks must be updated for you to move on to the next step. Once the list becomes obsolete, there is no use in keeping the list. You can simply throw it away and create a new list. 


5. A List of Burdens

Yes, a to-do list is a list of tasks you need to complete, but it can also include things you want to do throughout the day. Instead of listing duties and tasks only, include activities you’d like to do in your free time. Those “tasks” may not be part of your daily work routine, but you’re adding leisure to your day, which may be a cup of tea or three rounds of mobile games if that helps you relax or have fun during the day.  Playing a game or taking a 15-minute nap does not make your day any less efficient; in fact, it can give you more energy and prevent you from taking too much free time while you need to complete your tasks and cross them off the list. You may be even anticipating the activities and be encouraged to complete your tasks before taking the free time. Likewise, instead of making a to-do list into a list of burdens, make a list that you can often go back and have fun completing each task as if you are challenging a quest and winning a prize. Remember, your job is to manage your time and improve your day in the direction of your goals and purpose in life, not confining your day into a list that is loaded with tasks and burdens.  

To write a better to-do list, do not make the same mistakes listed above but try writing multiple lists for different purposes, such as grocery shopping, daily work, and weekly chores. Then make sure you set a goal for each list like eating healthy, advancing in a career, and organizing your home. For example, you can aim to eat healthy when you are updating your grocery shopping list and write a meal plan according to the goal. I prefer using planning pads instead of mobile applications or planning notebooks since the pads are easy to update and visualize, which is perfect for daily use. Your daily to-do lists represent small steps to achieve greater goals and purposes in life, and completing those small tasks can be as motivating as accomplishing your dreams.