To-Do Lists Are My Life

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I dream about to-do lists like I imagine people who like sports or guns dream about their hobbies. This is my thing. The thing that I get excited to get out of bed over.

I have lived somewhat oppressed by my to-do list for years; perhaps this is why I am so intrigued. It has been my challenge to conquer – “getting it all together,” or at least kinda, for the most part. Nothing is perfect, after all.

But to not be buried under 80 tasks, crushed by the weight of hundreds of things I don’t even really want to do – now that is a breath of fresh air! The fresh air that I am proud to now breathe, and I can say, with conviction, that I will NEVER allow myself to go back to that buried state. I simply refuse.

I set out yesterday with the motivation of my Birthday Eve. My own personal new year upon me, I reflected on my life over the past year and the direction I would like to take in the next. Most of the time, I feel like I am just about to have my life completely organized and to be living the lifestyle I envision, but I allow some major project that I have been avoiding to loom, holding myself back from truly moving forward.

I know this is no way to live, and I don’t want to constantly feel this way anymore. I want to really live! Looking back I don’t feel like I have made much progress on my goals over the past year. I feel like someone looking at my life would tell me to give myself a break. I do have an amazing life and I am so grateful, but I have personal goals and when I’m not making progress towards them, I feel more like I’m sinking and suffocating than fully living.

Sometimes I feel paralyzed – unable to move forward, unsure of what to do next. Yesterday around noon I decided to clear the rest of the day to “get my life together.” I started with 26 things to do on my personal to-do list, which I keep in Evernote. I was able to easily to sort the items from oldest to newest, and force myself to start with the oldest, most neglected task (from May 2014!).

My List

I want to really get my life organized, and share how I did it to help other people who struggle with stress and feeling overwhelmed. That is one of the main reasons why I have this blog.

I have read a ton of productivity and self-help books, and I want to take what I have learned and share the system I came up with that works for me with the world. And help people develop and stick to their own systems that will work for them.

I want to have a cleared to-do list at the end of each week, not having things remaining unnecessarily past one week. I want to help keep myself and my husband-to-be on target for achieving our dreams.

The only way these things will happen is if I actually do them. So I had to ask myself – do I sit down and clear the decks, doing all the little tasks that I have been putting off over the past year? It didn’t take me very long to decide that, without a doubt, yes! – I start by clearing the decks.

Letting go of the old makes room for the new, and if I want to help other people with getting their lists in order, I have to first figure out how to take control of mine. So I did.

My Process

I put on the most motivating, peppy music I could find. Loud. I started at 12:20 p.m., and vowed not to stop until I was done.

I have written about my hipster and seasonal review in the past. These are the cornerstones of my personal productivity process. The hipster is my version of a digitized, personalized planner, and the seasonal review is my version of New Year’s resolutions, every three months. The problem is that I have been neglecting my systems over the past year.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure moving last spring had something to do with it. I am so grateful we moved, so I don’t feel bad about it. I just know that now is the time to get back with it. Now is always the time.

I made quite a few phone calls I had been avoiding (several among the neglected tasks from May 2014…cringe!). I took care of the things I was able to do relatively quickly, within about an hour or less.

I ended up moving a good amount of tasks over to my pending list, which I keep for things that are not currently actionable. All I need to do is keep my eye on that list and be on the lookout for when the time comes that I can act on the tasks. For example, I want to make an appointment with our tax person, but I am waiting until I get my W2. So it is now on my pending list.

As difficult (and freeing) as it was, I let go of a few tasks that were no longer relevant. Had I acted on them months ago, they might have been nice. But I didn’t, and all I can do at this point is forgive myself and move forward. Letting go of them creates space for better stuff anyway.

Finally, I moved several items from my to-do list (which I call my reminders list), to my rituals list. Briefly, the rituals list is for tasks that you know will recur. A big one I had on my reminders list was “scans & sorting,” meaning finish scanning this huge pile of paper I had been collecting over the past year and sorting the files into their proper notebooks in Evernote.

This is a HUGE task that is more time consuming than one would think. It is also something that will never be done, because there will always be something to scan. I moved this item back where it belongs, on the rituals list. As long as I don’t neglect my system again, I can work on this little by little over the next six months to a year. Looming finished!

The Results

I ended up at the end of the day with only nine remaining tasks on my reminders list. It’s not zero, but I feel really good about my progress! I pretty much know when I will be able to get these done within the next week or two. It’s great to no longer feel like I don’t know when I will be able to get things done.

I’m looking forward to using and fine tuning my system in the coming weeks, so I can share it in ways that are immediately useful to anyone who is also looking to get more on top of their tasks.

We are in control of our lives more than we think or are led to believe. We can’t control everything, but if we aren’t directing and managing our own lives, then who is?

How do you get on top of things when you have fallen behind? I would love to know if you care to comment!

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  1. Brittany Jan 15, 5:55 pm

    Happy Birthday! Love this post and it makes me miss you so much. I miss our talks about to do lists and organization. I love the idea of a rituals list. I have tried to implement something similar. I am also trying to come up with some “master lists” (thats what I am calling them) like a packing list for example. Since I am going to Nashville almost every weekend I find myself making virtually the same list every week of things not to forget. So I finally decided, why not make a list of these things that I know I need to pack and then I can just add to that every week. I have tried to do the same with a weekly and daily chore/to do list. Some of the stuff is obvious, like laundry and meal planning but you know how I love to cross things off a list :))))

    1. anniehurley Jan 24, 1:02 pm

      Aw, thanks Brittany! Love the master list idea, good name 🙂 Yes, I have done something similar with my shopping list on my phone, at least in theory. The idea was to have a standard list of stuff for the grocery store, because you know you end up buying mostly the same stuff every week. I am still working on using it properly, but love the idea. I like your packing list idea! I have also tried that but haven’t really used it fully either, so thanks for the inspiration to get back on that 🙂

  2. Meg Evans Jan 16, 11:34 am

    eeek, dreaming about to-do lists! Last night I dreamed that I forgot about a meeting and remembered it only after it was over. definitely the subconscious mind giving me a message to simplify!

    1. anniehurley Jan 24, 1:04 pm

      Ugh, don’t you hate those dreams? I like your interpretation though. I guess they do serve a purpose of guiding us to make positive changes for greater peace and simplicity during waking hours.


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