How To Make Effective To-Do Lists (That You Will Tick Off!)

Writing daily to-do lists has completely changed the way I approach productivity, and I don’t know where I would be without my handy lists. After 4-5 years of consistently using this method, I have found my own preferred way to write to-do lists. Now, it might sound stupidly obvious: just write down what you need to get done. But to prevent feeling overwhelmed, you have establish a good to-do list writing method. In this post I’ll be sharing my top tips to creating to-do lists that you will actually complete. 

Write a Huge Master To-Do List

Let us first establish everything you need to do. Absolutely everything: short term, long term, even tasks with no timeline. Empty all of the things you need to get done out of your brain and into a digital Notes app: such as the one that comes free with iPhone. This might take a long time, but believe me, we’ll create direction to them later.

Draw Out a Week at a Glance

I do this in my bullet journal, on to spreads that look like this. Just a box every day for seven days. Now, this is where you master to-do list comes in, write down the time limited tasks into the appropriate boxes. So if you have an assignment due on Wednesday, but ‘submit assignment’ into your box allocated to Wednesday. Also make sure you do this timetabling in a place that you will reference and look at throughout the week. There is no point writing it in a bullet journal is that notebook stays shut on your desk all week. Whatever works for you, plan there. And it doesn’t have to be fancy! 

And also, once writing time limited tasks into your boxes, remove them or tick them off your master to-do list.

Work Backwards 

You have put all of your tasks-with-deadlines in the correct boxes. Now, work backwards one task at a time. You may have put ‘submit assessment’ on Saturday, for example, so work backwards. Monday you finish off research, Tuesday you begin writing, get it all finished my Thursday, proofread on Friday and make sure you’re at the correct word count, submit on Saturday. This breaks down your bigger tasks and ensures you don’t ‘forget’ about your deadline. I recommend this method to absolutely anyone and it’s so helpful with studying in particular. 

Put One Smaller Task Per Day

On your fat master to-do list you might actually have small tasks that will only take less than an hour. Allocate one of these tasks each day. Don’t get too ambitious, because throughout the week you’ll be adding to the list as life goes on – you know. At the end of the week that’s still 7 little tasks completed! 

Put One Bigger Task Per Day

Along with that, put one big task per day. Such as the example we previously discussed: starting to write an assignment! That’s a big task (in my eyes anyway) so prioritise that on your list. Sadly, life means we can’t just do one ‘big’ thing per day. We have to do more. But in your forward planning, just put one thing down. You’ll add to it.

An Enjoyable Task

Try to enjoy every little thing you do, of course! However, at the end of a hard day’s work, treat yourself to something you can do for you. AND PUT THIS ON YOUR LIST. Because self-care hands itself to productivity, and prevents overworking and burn out. I, for example, might put ‘watch Torchwood and bullet journal’. Something I enjoy. I don’t force myself to put a ‘fun’ task on my list everyday, because that would completely destroy the idea of it being ‘fun’. You could put something as broad as ‘me time’ as a check box, and do whatever you feel like that day. That could mean half an hour on Instagram scrolling (allow yourself that if you enjoy it). 

Exercise

You’re really supposed to exercise everyday, but putting it on my to-do list makes it feel like an extra little win.

Weekly Tasks

Finally, go over your master to-do list again to look at tasks that you need to get done before the week is out but on no specific date. Perhaps make a separate box for this on your timetable!

Throughout this post I have said ‘you will add to it’. The model I have explained in this post is for a week in advance. Weekly planning is so much more efficient than daily. However, tasks will come up day to day that you need to add to your list. You might be set something on Tuesday due on Wednesday. Of course add this to your list. That’s why you should never bombard yourself with too many tasks at the start of the week, because things will crop up. 

I really hope I explained myself well here, although it is hard to show weekly planning through writing. It’s not that complicated – but through words it makes itself out to be! 

There will be other tasks that don’t fit within these categories or maybe there are too many big tasks to put for one week! They can be allocated to the next week. Or you can do them when you get free time throughout the week. Keep this master to-do list so you can use it for the next week’s weekly planning session. You might have more time that week than the week before! Flexibility is key. Too much structure is hard to stick with, too little means you get nothing done. Balance and flexibility are key to productivity 🙂 

(ooh, I just made that phrase up myself but I kinda like it ;))

What’s on your to-do list today? How are you going to get it done?

And if your to-do list just looks like: wake up, shower and eat food that should not be invalidated. You’re doing so well. Don’t allow hustle culture to make your day seem ‘less productive’ just because you aren’t moving at a million miles per hour. 

I shared this on my Instagram stories a few weeks ago: ‘productivity is making the most out of a given situation’. Are you feeling ill? Rest. That’s productive, because you’re making the right decision in that given situation. If you forced yourself to work when you were feeling ill, you’ll not only tire yourself out but probably produce something you’re not happy with and have to do it all over again. 

Productivity is relative. Do what is best for you.

Catherine x

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The Uprise of Self-Care Sunday | Does It Negatively Affect Your Mental Health?

When I say ‘it’s okay to do nothing’, I genuinely mean it. If your social media feed looks anything like mine, you have probably heard this a lot. Some people host a Sunday event called ‘self-care Sunday’ which I think is an amazing idea. However, the mainstream connotations of self-care: baths, pampers and baking are not going to work for everyone. Now I have already written about this. But revisiting it a few months later is beneficial, since there are so many of you that have joined since then (thank you for 700 followers!)

Workaholism

I find that when people take you through their ‘self-care Sunday’, or ‘rest day’ they are still being mega productive. The workaholic mindset is worrying, especially among young impressionable people. Self-care Sunday should be for self-care: not for sharing it on your Instagram. Also, other people’s ideas of rest days might be more or less productive than your’s. So if you see someone going for a run on their rest day, that’s them. That makes them feel better. But if you sit on your bed eating chocolate raisins and watching Doctor Who all day, that can also make you feel better. Everyone has different ways of caring for themselves so please don’t compare them.

Is This The Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy For Instagram?

Telling your followers that you do take days off for self-care is important, they need to be aware that you’re not a Boss Babe 24/7. When influencers share their seemingly perfect self-care on the Internet, you speculate: are they doing this to take care of themselves or to post it on social media? Followers need to know that you’re not always working at the desk, but they also need to know that self-care isn’t just bubble baths and long walks.

For some people, going for a walk isn’t self-care. Diet culture perceives walking as a way to lose weight, and how can you enjoy an activity that intends for you to lose weight? There are so many people that can’t enjoy exercise because they’re only thinking about the end result, and disordered ideas that thinner is better. Rather than run for the fun of running, in the back of their mind (or the front) they’re thinking about how this will help them get fitter and potentially thinner. Glamourising weight loss is a whole other story.

I keep getting side-tracked. Wow, that shows how rusty I am with posts like this. Anyway, rest is a sub-category of self-care. Let me show you this:

Self care 

  • Eating well
  • Getting exercise
  • Doing your hobby
  • Journaling/getting out your thoughts in some sort of medium

Rest

  • Chilling in bed
  • Catching up on telly
  • Eating chocolate
  • Cuddling with your cat

Taking care of yourself also means getting things done, to unload unnecessary stress. You can’t eat chocolate and watch Netflix all day every day, without consequences of bad health. Similarly, procrastinating an essay until the night before it’s due because you’ve been binge-watching telly is not self-care. Although watching Netflix might be a way of taking care of yourself and relaxing, prioritising it over the work that needs to get done will not make you feel any better. Self-care means something different to each individual, but the main principle is taking care of yourself as the word states.

Scenario

It’s a Monday afternoon, last lesson of school. The teachers sets you an essay, to be completed by Friday. You’re so tired by the time you get home; you don’t get started yet. However, this pattern continues until Thursday. Now you’re in a panic! Only a few hours to get this essay sorted? Why didn’t you do it sooner?

You didn’t do it sooner because you prefer to watch Netflix in the evenings. And chilling out, according to your social media feed, is self-care. That excuse keeps you going.

But, is waiting until the last minute really self-care? No. Perhaps getting a chunk done, rewarding yourself with an episode of Stranger Things, then getting another chunk done would be self-care. Otherwise you’re spending the entire week watching Netflix with the pressing concern of completing the essay in the back of your brain. You can’t properly enjoy relaxing in front of the telly when you know something is due in a few hours.

I will explain procrastination in further detail, as a separate post. However this one is supposed to be about self-care. Sorry the tangents are a bit annoying; I can’t help it! Eventually this will get better, but at the moment I don’t want to erase any paragraphs because I feel like they contribute to the post. 

Self-care is individual. 

Even I, the one preaching this message, need a reminder sometimes. I need to be told that taking care of yourself is not solely watching Doctor Who and eating chocolate raisins. It’s getting my work done, then rewarding myself with Doctor Who.

Okay, and back to the first paragraph. It’s called cyclical structure, and perhaps it will improve the continuity of this article. Umm, commenting on my writing as I’m writing is a little bit strange. I don’t know: do you like it? Or would you prefer me to shut up and get the facts down?

“It’s okay to do nothing”

What is nothing to you? You can’t simply do nothing. You are always doing something. Now, watching TV is not nothing, is it? It’s watching TV. So if you spend an afternoon watching TV, label it as such. Do not fall into the trap of calling relaxing ‘doing nothing’. Because relaxing is something. Relaxing is a key part in taking care of yourself. Next time you sit in a bath, singing along to 1D and using a hairbrush as a microphone, call it SELF-CARE. Not NOTHING!

As Winnie The Pooh says, ‘doing nothing leads to the very best something’.

How do you practise self-care? Does it consist of journaling, exercise or TV?

I hope this post starts up a conversation. I would love to chat with you. Although it is dissimilar to my regular content, I did really enjoy writing it. Let me know your thoughts: whether you read the whole thing through or just skimmed over parts? I know I am not usually compelled to read through chunky posts, I much prefer ones laid out with questions and answers. What about you?

Take care of yourself.

catherine x

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