5 Ways To Make Your To-Do List Your Friend

Do you keep a to-do list? Do you have a to-do list of to-do lists? It can get pretty overwhelming sometimes, can’t it? We NPs lead busy lives, though, and have to keep up with our responsibilities in our various roles at work, home, school, hobbies and pastimes, so we have to stay organized or we’ll drown.

You may hate your to-do list(s). I always have at least four going, and they used to be a constant reminder of how many things I should have been doing instead of guiltily relaxing for a few minutes.

A couple of years ago, I decided to make my to-do lists my friend… or at least turn it into a “frenemy,” instead of a flat-out enemy. Here are five tips that illustrate how I did it.

Tip #1: Keep it Simple

Just like you try not to overwhelm your patients with jargon, don’t overwhelm yourself by keeping large, complex and confusing projects on your to-do list.

Break down complex items into small, doable tasks and describe them clearly. For example, “learn to meditate” could become “follow and read three links on HealthyNP’s Resources page.” In contrast, if you keep “learn Spanish” on your to-do list but are not actually motivated to do it right now, move it a different list entirely, such as a “someday” list. If you are motivated to do it, change it to something like “call the Spanish department at the local university at 555-555-1234 and ask about local Spanish learning resources.”

Tip #2: Be Specific

I strongly advocate planning and scheduling self-care. However, a generic “exercise” on your list tends to get ignored, because it is vague and the word is emotionally charged. You are much more likely to “walk in the park for five minutes,” and also may continue walking after the five minutes and get some good self-care time in. This goes for all tasks on your list. Vague items will likely sit on your list for a long time without getting done.

Tip #3: Pick ONE Thing to Get Done

Many of us have a gazillion things on our list, and even when we cross half a dozen off in a productive day, we still feel discouraged by the sheer volume of “stuff” still on the list. I know I feel that way sometimes. Each day, pick just ONE thing on your list that is of utmost importance.

Whenever you start working on your to-do’s, do that one thing FIRST. That way, you make sure you get the most important thing done first and don’t procrastinate on it, and also can feel satisfied that you accomplished something meaningful. I do this particularly with activities or things I tend to put off as too hard or just annoying (cleaning the toilet comes to mind immediately for some strange reason…)

For example, I desperately want to read my “fun” book right now, but I’m typing away instead, to make myself and the world a better place. However, when I do reward myself later with time to read my “fun” book, I will thoroughly enjoy it, and still feel accomplished, because I will have finished this blog post.

Tip #4: Put “Do Nothing” On Your List Too (But Set A Time Limit)

Put things on your list that require you to take down time. For example, I may add “dream about the future for fifteen minutes,” “read my [fun] book for thirty minutes,” or “do nothing for ten minutes” to my list. That way, when I am relaxing but feeling guilty about it, I can tell myself “nope, I can’t do anything useful yet; I must continue doing nothing for another twenty-five minutes.” And I still get to cross something off my list when I’m done!

Sometimes thoughtfully “wasted” time is the most valuable to our spirit and soul.

Tip #5: When You are Purposefully Doing Nothing, Hide the List

Just like they make you turn off (or at least hide) your email and Facebook when you are working, hide your to-do list when you are purposefully being unproductive. Be ready to be surprised when you try to do nothing… and it doesn’t work. Many NPs don’t know how to relax, and we respond to feeling guilty about it by checking our to-do list and see if there isn’t something we can do and cross off “real quick” and end up working through our mental “break,” Respect your body and mind’s need for down time. Put the list away and out of site when you are not actively working on it. 

Now that you have made your to-do list into a friend, or at least frenemy, give it a whirl. As with all advice, adopt whatever works for you, and ditch whatever doesn’t.

Take Care of You!

Sam