To do a to-do

Have you ever seen the film ‘I Don’t How She Does It’? It’s a soppy movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead as a successful business woman who seemingly rocks it all – her job, a household, her relationship and her kids. They show how she manages to hold everything together, even in chaotic times, and sometimes by taking little shortcuts (like that memorable scene where she has forgotten to bake a cake for the cake sale and buys one, then mashes it up a bit to make it look more home-made).

Well, in the film, she keeps a mental list of everything that needs doing every day. Like everyone I know, she has multiple events that need juggling daily and she spends her night times lying awake, crossing done items off her list and adding new ones as they come up.

I take this a little further and keep an actual list.

To-do-lists are hardly something new. They’ve been around for decades, probably centuries (among those that could read and write and had the means to afford enough paper) to help people remember exactly what needs doing and when.

It seems paradoxical. You complain about not having enough time, yet there you sit taking the time to compile a list. Business man Brian Tracy even suggests numbering the items on said list to help prioritise those things that need doing immediately. Some people colour-code work-related and personal items. Take all the advice and you can spend hours making your to-do list look very important indeed.

The point is, to-do lists are brilliant. I have one and use it almost daily, but certainly on those days where the amount of tasks I have seem insurmountable.

It gives me an immediate overview of what I need to do. I don’t number or otherwise label my priorities; if it is on the list, it must get done within the time line given. I cross off anything I have done.

At first, I would use little note books and fill in a daily page. Now I have a single, laminated sheet I write on as and when needed. It saves reams of paper.

My list is divided into 3 sections: Today, this week and long-term (by which I really mean this month – if everything became long-term I might never get round to it and the whole point of these lists is to actually get stuff done).


Today’s items need to be done. I find that – no matter how long the list – I can usually get everything done by the early afternoon. The list gives me a focus; it’s almost like a little person at the back of my every thought, nagging me constantly until every single task is crossed off. Every time I cross something off, I feel a sense of pride and achievement, even if I just cross off that I have successfully managed to wash the dishes. Without the list, it somehow doesn’t feel as magical.

Anything on the ‘this week’ section needs to be done by the Sunday that week. Depending on how long my daily to-do lists are, I attempt to do one of those weekly tasks each day. They’re not as important. In a way, they are the things that would be at the bottom of my priority list. I could leave them all until the Sunday if I wished, but then I’d feel like I did in my student days the day before an assignment deadline with the sense that I’d need to pull an all-nighter to get everything done.

Long-term items have time, but need to get done by the end of that month. They could be things like sorting out the kitchen cupboards, doing the tax self-assessment or finding a new hair colour. They are either unimportant or have a long deadline. They are the things we tend to put off and off until they never get done (or rushed on the last day of the deadline). Again, I use the list to remind (nag) me.

Since I have started using to-do lists, I have become much more proactive and organised. I am actually less stressed, because I can see what I have done and what still needs doing. I feel a sense of accomplishment.

The format doesn’t really matter. The three-part format I use is perfect for me, but you may find that there is something that suits you better. But if you’re looking to get organised, there is nothing better than a list. Put it on your list.

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