Hipster Series: Turning To-Do List Items into Rituals

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“It’s easier to take a small action now instead of a big action ’some day.’” – posted at Marc and Angel Hack Life

These days I have four primary lists that I track my to-do items on each day:

1. Reminders

2. Reminders – Weekday

3. Rituals

4. Rituals – Weekday

I previously explained how I use my reminders lists here. Today I am going to go into more detail about how I have come to create my rituals lists.

The Makings of a Ritual

When I think of the word ritual I think of something that is relaxing and doesn’t require a whole lot of thought about how to do it, such as taking a bath, meditating, or going for a walk. I decided I wanted to start thinking of all the things I do on a regular basis as if they were rituals. I have created an Evernote shared notebook to show how I have created my personal rituals list, and also to give some examples of the types of activities I am tracking there.

When I first created this list, I had to fight my natural tendency to over-categorize. You will see in my example list that each item is preceded by its frequency, such as daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly. Since you can sort items in a notebook in Evernote alphabetically this system actually works out almost perfectly for keeping everything in order by frequency as well, the only exception being “weekly”. That is why the weekly items are called “every week” instead of “weekly”. Problem solved! For things that don’t exactly fit into these frequencies, I just put a number in parentheses next to the name. For example, “Yearly (2) – Call to Make Dentist Appointment” means that I will need to call to make my dentist appointment twice during a year. If something has to be done every 2 years, then I put “every 2” in the parentheses.

My initial tendency was to create separate notebooks for each frequency category (daily, weekly, etc.), so that I would have at least 5 different notebooks to open and review each day in each rituals category. Craziness! I decided that was way too overwhelming to try to keep up with that many lists each and everyday, and that I would just be setting myself up for failure. Writing the frequency to precede the name might make the list seem a bit clunky, but I decided to make that sacrifice for the sake of having just one list for my personal rituals and one for work-related recurring items.

The other problem I wasn’t sure if I could live with was whether or not I could tolerate having to look at items that only occur with the frequency of seasonally or yearly every single day. In the past I have tried to set up reminder alerts to be emailed to me or set up calendar alerts in my calendar app on my phone. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I could rely on either system. Whenever I got an alert for something new I ran the risk of either already having too many other things going on and not being prepared enough to give the task or event the attention it deserved or forgetting to add it to my general to-do list altogether.

Once I recorded all my yearly and seasonally occurring tasks into my rituals lists, I discovered that there aren’t that many of them anyway. For my “Rituals – Weekday” list I only have 3 yearly occurring rituals and for my personal rituals list I have about 20 to 25 currently. I decided that it was more proactive to have a list that I review everyday with everything I need to do on a regular basis within a year, because it might be something that I can get done that day, rather than waiting until the very last minute to get it taken care of. It also helps me to be aware of what I need to do well in advance of whenever it is due. Plus, I feel good to see the items I have already completed. It makes me feel on top of my life and accomplished.

The Daily Use of a Rituals List

A major difference between my reminders and rituals lists is that I delete items off of my reminders lists once they are completed whereas I just scroll through the rituals lists each day but don’t bother deleting their items because they are permanently recurring tasks. In general I just keep track in my head whether something has been done or will need to be done that day. I also use the body of the note to record the last date I did things when it makes sense to me, such as the last time I got an oil change. This makes more sense to me to do for things that are less frequent, such as monthly, seasonally, and yearly, that I might tend to forget the last time I did as time goes on. I also sometimes enter into the body of the note the next time I plan to do something, or the next time it is due.

I realize that some of the things on my rituals list might seem ridiculous to some people, such as “daily – floss” or “daily – take vitamins”. I have these items on my list currently because I am working on developing these daily habits. Likely, I will eventually take them off the list once I am sure I have permanently developed the habit and it seems silly to me to see it on a list everyday.

I don’t put things on this list that seem overly obvious to me, such as brushing my teeth or taking a shower everyday. However, I do put take a bath a few times a week, because that is something I find relaxing and want to work on incorporating into my overall stress-prevention plan. I put laundry as a daily ritual to help me remember to try to do one load of laundry everyday, so I don’t end up with a huge mound of dirty linens and clothes at the end of the week that seems overwhelming.

Another example of something I don’t have on there that someone else might is making a hair appointment every 8 weeks. I have now trained myself to make my next appointment every time I go to the hairdresser and enter the appointment directly into my calendar right away. This eliminates the need to have an item on my rituals list to make the hair appointment and the need for the reminder appointment card. One less thing to do or process. I envision that someday I will put a lot more of the items that currently live on my rituals list into a similar more automatic system.

The items that are entered onto the rituals list can be whatever makes sense for you. At the end of the day, this is simply a system to help improve productivity and prevent things from getting out of control. And, no one else has to see your list so you can put whatever you want on there no matter how silly or ridiculous it might seem to someone else. Right now I have 120 items on my personal rituals list and just 25 on my “Rituals – Weekday” list. I realize this sounds like a lot, but it honestly is quite quick to scroll through in less than 5 minutes each day. Next time I will go through in more depth a few extra list categories that I have found a home for in my rituals lists. Namaste!

image credit: Design Mom


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  1. Aliquo Nov 3, 5:14 am

    Nice! I’ve been hopping between this article and your to-do list article so my comment is a bit about both. I have immediately implemented that 2-minute rule (put the washer on!) It sounds so simple but it made me realise how many 2-minute jobs I’ve been hoarding when I could just get them over with right now.

    It’s funny what some people put on to-do lists, like for you the flossing and taking vitamins because you’re trying to get in the habit of it. For me it would be the hair appointment because that’s something I’m disorganised with – but I think I’ll try your idea of booking it at the time I’m there (again so simple but easy to not think of that!).

    This has definitely inspired me to reorganise my to-do list. I don’t like having electronic lists and usually write them on paper but I think I’m going to invest in a large whiteboard for my future lists so everything’s organised in one easy-to-see place.

    1. anniehurley Nov 10, 12:10 pm

      Cool! Yes the hair appointment thing is something so small but that I feel so proud about 🙂 I still can see my to-do lists in my mind where “make hair appointment” would sit there for weeks, well past the time my hair was due for a trim – haunting me. I do the same thing with the dog groomer now 🙂 I love it! I also have finally gone back to paper lists – I will have to write a post sometime soon about my re-entry into the world of planners 🙂


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