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2 Tricks for a To-Do List You'll Do

Breaking a large task or project into smaller steps is essential for good time management and meeting deadlines. This practice also helps many people manage their stress and anxiety levels by putting work and projects in perspective and making them feel more doable. Often, the more specific the list of separate tasks, the better.

But for many procrastinators, the resulting to-do list or schedule ends up being overwhelming in and of itself. This can be especially true with decluttering and organizing projects when you're already staring at a mess.

If you've already broken down your work down into simple. shorter tasks, how can you possibly make your to-do list easier?


Getting to work and convincing yourself to stop avoiding a task you're probably exaggerating in your head in one way or another can be as simple as not actually telling yourself you have complete it.

You just have to start it.

So if you've broken down writing a report into several sections plus revising, instead of adding "Write Introduction" to your schedule, you'll write "Start Introduction." This means, literally, all you have to do is open the document and get a few sentences or so down. Now you're no longer staring at a blank page or convincing yourself this introduction is going to be stressful or difficult or that your end product won't be any good. (Notice this also helps combat perfectionism.)

Let's say you need to organize your wardrobe and you've broken this task down by location (dresser, closet, etc.) or, much better, category (shirts, pants, dresses, etc.). You have a master list written down where you've mapped out everything you need to declutter and rearrange. You want to get started on Saturday morning and would like to complete the project over the course of two weekends. On the to-do list for Saturday morning, you'll write "Start decluttering sock drawer." As soon as you've tossed a few or neatly returned a few pairs you know you want to keep or yeven pulled everything out and arranged the fabric bins you want to use to organize the socks you'll accomplished your goal. You've made a start, and that's often the hardest part.


If you have a giant pile of mail to go through, tell yourself you just have to pluck one envelope out of the basket and deal with it. Just one. No big deal. And just like that you've started the task you've put off for a week. Before you go off to do something else, decide when you will do Just One More.

Be strategic. Be honest with yourself if the real reason you've been avoiding the mail is that you know there's a dental insurance statement somewhere in the pile that is going to necessitate a lengthy, frustrating phone call. Sometimes we need to do thing we're dreading most just to keep it from nagging at us. Other times, it's helpful to build up to the hard thing by building a little momentum first. Being thoughtful about which approach works for you and when can help you consistently be more productive.

How can this possibly be effective?

You have a project that is going to take you hours and hours. Why let yourself get away with so little work? How do you plan out a whole weekend of work if you're going to do so little on Saturday morning?

  • Making to-do lists for shorter periods of time allows you to be more flexible and keep things simple. Once you get through a mini list of three or four tasks for the early morning, you can take a break or give yourself a reward and then consider what you need to do in the next half hour or before lunch. This constant progress help you accomplish more over the course of the day.

  • Setting a timer will help you make a reasonable amount of progress without feeling too much pressure. This puts your time on the project in perspective and lets you keep yourself accountable without cracking the whip or falling into the trap of nagging or bullying yourself into getting to work.

  • Recognizing that a body in a motion tends to stay in motion can make you so much more productive and satisfied with your progress. Don't focus on this idea too much or you'll undermine the whole point of this exercise, but realize that once the pressure is off and all you have to do is "start" or "do one," you will often get a task half done or completed once you're started. "One" can easily turn into two, three, or seven.

For many procrastinators, focusing on the end goal can be just as counterproductive and it is motivating. Giving yourself an exponentially greater number of opportunities to feel successful and productive can completely change the process of getting to that goal.

Of course, if you're facing a daunting organizing project, The Modern Tidy is happy to help, provide support, and make the process more pleasant all around.


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