How I fell in Love with To Do Lists (and you can too!)

In my family, I have always been the unorganized one. At the start of the year, our school issues to each girl an academic planner. I was one of the kids who left it in my locker all year long and remembered my homework or wrote it on a sheet of loose leaf somewhere in my notes for each class. I have a good memory, and though I never forgot assignments, I was terrible at managing the time, because I never realized how much I had on my plate with nothing written down. I didn’t really understand the concept of to-do lists, but I knew my mom was a list person. She has a notebook that she keeps on the counter in the kitchen with shopping lists, lists of phone calls that need to be made, important deadlines for things, and doctor/dentist/haircut/whatever else appointments that need to be made for my siblings and me. I started to realize that she got things done so much more efficiently than I did. But I hated writing things down, because I would always forget, or I’d run out of room, or I just didn’t want to really see the workload I had because I thought it would be too stressful. But one week this year I had the week from hell: Monday, three tests, Tuesday, big paper due and a test, Wednesday, two tests and an in class essay, Thursday, giant physics lab due and two essays due, Friday, test. Add Chorus til 4 Monday and Wednesday, tutoring Wednesday night, SAT class Tuesday night, and work Thursday and Friday, and I seemed to have no room for all this studying, never mind homework.

It started innocently enough. I took a big post-it note and put it on my desk. I wrote down what tests I needed to study for, noting the date of each test. I then added another post-it, writing each paper and assignment for the week. I did something I’ve never done before – I took out my school-issued planner, and I opened to the week. I wrote out times when I would study, work on my essays, when I had activities, and when I would breathe. Each day that week, I put a new post it in my planner, writing only task I had to get done that exact day. I added times, and got through the week with ten times less stress than normal. Needless to say, my planner and post-it notes are now my best friends. Here’s my fool proof to-do list advice:

1. Write everything down. Everything. everything. If you don’t have a realistic view of how much you need to get done, you won’t be able to budget your time correctly. Write it all down throughout the school day. When you get home, you can sort out your list. For now, it’s about knowing everything you’re responsible for.

2. Pick out what needs to be done TODAY. Make a list of things you need to get done today. Use a post-it, a note card, a wipe board, a notebook, it doesn’t really matter. Just write only the things that have to be done today.

3. Prioritize. I never understood making prioritized lists. So I simplified the idea of a prioritized to-do list: Take your today list, and number it. Write 1. for the first thing you need to do, and keep numbering. If there are two things of equal importance, do the hardest thing first. you’ll thank yourself later.

4. Write Times. This is very important. Include extra-curricular activities such as chorus or track practice, and write times. This will show you exactly how much time you have to work with. Estimate how much time it will take for each task, and add on a little more time so you’re not rushing. write times for each task.

5. Congratulate yourself. When I finish something on my list, I cross it off and celebrate to myself. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing your list shrink task by task. Make a deal with yourself. Say you have ten tasks. After 5, go lie down for 20 minutes, or ride your bike, or call a friend. This will motivate you to get things done and not waste any time.

6. Smaller Lists. If you have a very large task, make another list. I recently had a term paper for British Literature class. I made a separate list called “TERM PAPER TO DO!” and I put smaller tasks such as “revise thesis statement,” “photocopy sources,” “edit grammar in opening,” and so on. any small task, I would put on my list, because it was something I needed to take time to do. Writing “term paper” on my main to do list isn’t very practical, as it takes many smaller tasks to do this large task.

I hope that my new found love of to-do lists will help someone else out there. They really do help increase productiveness and reduce a lot of stress!

-kaitlin

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