The one to-do list trick you should be trying this month
In this digital age, we rarely write anything down, which is why keeping, updating and working through something as simple as a to-do list can pack a pretty powerful punch.
Guest post by Hannah-Rose Yee
In my shamefully recurring fantasies, Melissa McCarthy and I are friends.
Very good friends, in fact, quite remarkably close. We share a perspective on life, you see, as outlined in an interview she gave to The New York Times, in which she detailed her morning routine. It doesn’t involve silent meditation or a green smoothie from some kind of milk-adjacent substance or even a spot of deep-breathing yoga. The one thing on her to-do list before she checks her email or gets on Instagram or looks at her schedule is for her and her alone. She watches television. Bad television, silly television, television from the ‘80s when she was growing up, like Knight Rider.
She does this, she says, because she wants to make sure that before she gets started on all the important, serious business of her life, she has a bit of fun. It’s the thing that sets her day up for success more than anything else.
I like this. I think it’s a good idea, and it’s why I think Melissa and I would be great friends. It’s also the same idea that I have regarding to-do lists.
To-do lists and I haven’t always been companionable. (To-do lists are not Melissa McCarthy in this equation.) When I was in my final year of university I avoided writing them completely, so anxious was I seeing every single minute task that lay between me and posting in my thesis written down.
But two things happened in 2014. The first was that I met Beck Wadworth, the founder of An Organised Life (but you know all that, don’t you, because you’re reading this website) and became friends with her. And the second was that she gave me one of her burgeoning stationery business’ to-do list notebooks.
You’ve probably used one of them before, so I won’t describe it for you. But suffice to say this little notebook changed my relationship with to-do lists. It was simple and simply designed, and just big enough to fit a day’s worth of tasks along its dotted lines. At the time, I was working freelance, and the notebook helped me keep track of all the work I owed to different clients. I noted tasks down and when I completed them, I crossed them out. It was that easy. And it worked. I felt great when I finished something, but I felt even better when I got the chance to quite literally erase it from the red overdraft in my brain via this to-do list.
Humans haven’t always needed to-do lists. But then, humans haven’t always lived the way that we do now, by which I mean, harried and hustling every day of our forbidding existence. Psychologists have noted that to-do lists help reduce the anxiety of a stressful life by giving us structure, plans and concrete evidence of our day-to-day achievements. They show us what we have done, and allow us to look forward to what we can do.
That’s why it feels so good to cross something off a list. It might be something as small as sending an email or something as enormous as filing your tax return, but without seeing it removed from the list of tasks weighing down on you, it can be hard to visualise your achievement.
But let me bring it back to Melissa McCarthy for a second here. I mentioned that story up the top because I think that the way we write to-do lists has to change. The reason I avoided them for so many years, and the reason they used to make me more stressed than I was before I started writing them, was because I used to fill them only with the stuff of my working life. I would look at a to-do list and see endless office-related tasks: articles to be written, interviews to be transcribed, research to be completed, emails (and emails and emails and emails) to be answered. Those early to-do lists probably contained more instances of the word email than the movie You’ve Got Mail.
Today, I write my to-do list like Melissa structures her day. I make sure that I balance out the work tasks with the life tasks. I put something on there that is just for me, whether it’s a reminder to go for a walk at lunchtime or to download the new episode of that podcast that I love or to buy the latest issue of Elle or to bake a tray of brownies or even something as simple as remembering to drink water.
I get the same satisfaction from striking off each of those little tasks as I do from filing a feature that I’ve been working on for months to an editor. This is because the psychology is the same: a task completed is a task completed, no matter how big or small it is.
And studding your to-do lists with a few small tasks like this, things that exist in your life for no greater or smaller reason than that they make you happy, is a surefire way to set your day up for success. Don’t just take my word for it. You can ask my friend Melissa McCarthy. She loves it.
Ready to fall in love with to-do lists? Monogram your very own Notebook here to get started, or feel inspired by one of the An Organised Life Zodiac Notebooks here