How to never forget a to-do again

On some days, our minds are super busy, and we have many thoughts and to-do’s floating around.

“I should buy some lemons.”

“Oh, I should also call my dentist.”

“Also, I should make a reservation for dinner.”

These thoughts all feel important because they are things we want to or have to do. “I shouldn’t forget to make a reservation!” Each thought comes with a sense of urgency, so we can’t afford to forget it.

This roller coaster is quite exhausting. What’s more, it keeps our mind occupied, so there’s less capacity for interesting, creative, or productive thoughts.

The Inbox

A great solution comes from the Getting Things Done method by David Allen (you can read my blog post about it here). This solution is to keep an Inbox where you dump all such thoughts. The Inbox can be a notebook, a text document, or an app on your phone. It doesn’t matter what it actually is as long as:

  • It reliably keeps your info (e.g., it’s not an app with bugs that loses certain entries, and it’s not a bunch of post-it notes that can easily get lost around the house);
  • It is easy for you to browse, so you can see what you’ve written down (e.g., it’s not a huge, messy notebook where your to-do’s get lost, and it’s not an app that’s organized in a way you don’t understand, making it difficult to find your entries);
  • It is always on hand for you (i.e., it’s not helpful if you left your notebook at work, and then at home you don’t have a place to write down the to-do’s that come to mind.

For me, it is convenient to use an app for this. I use Wunderlist or Trello, depending on what the to-do is about. I have both apps on my phone and on all my devices, so it’s easy to jot something down. (See this blog post for an extensive description of the tools I use.)

The surprising power of writing things down

One participant in my bootcamp course on organization and time management, Angela, said the Inbox method was immensely helpful for her. She used to try to remember everything she needed to do, inevitably ending up overwhelmed and forgetting something.

“Since I’ve started writing down all my tasks, I feel like I’ve freed up so much mental space,” Angela shared. “A lot of the anxiety is gone because I know that if I need to do something, I won’t forget it–it’s on my list!”

Angela’s enthusiasm about this discovery caught me by surprise. It’s such a simple thing to do that I’d forgotten its power. I must have been doing this for almost 10 years already, since I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done for the first time.

I remembered the relief and decreased anxiety I had experienced back then when I discovered this simple way of dealing with the ever-present thoughts about endless to-do’s. It really is so simple: Write it down. Get it out of your head. The simplest things often are the most powerful.

Have you tried this? How do you deal with endless thoughts about to-do’s? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Featured image by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

Your Priorities

Choosing your priorities is the first thing you need to do before you take any actions. So do it now (or after you read this post).

Why is this so important?

One reason for this is that it allows you to clearly identify what’s important to you. Many of us tend to spend the majority of our time on our job, studying, housework, or something else. But is that the best distribution of our time? Do we spend a sufficient amount of time on the things that are most important to us? In order to make sure that we are, it is helpful to have a clear hierarchy of the projects we undertake.

Very practically, having a list of priorities can also resolve time conflicts. If, for instance, you are wondering if you should do some work or go swimming right now (and neither is particularly pressing), you can take a look at your priorities list. If doing work comes before swimming, then do work; if swimming comes before doing work, then go swimming. This gives you a simple answer to your dilemma. In some cases, you will feel unhappy with the outcome. To take up the same example, your list might tell you to do work, but you may strongly prefer to go swimming. If this happens often, then you know you need to re-order your priorities in order to be true to your preferences. So go ahead, put swimming before doing work!

How to determine your priorities?

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First write down the activities, events, things, and people in your life. You can start general with things like working, studying, doing sports, taking care of my pets, etc. Then order those around according to how important each is to you. Here is a sample list:

  1. Keeping close with my friends, family, significant other
  2. Taking care of my children
  3. Taking care of my pets
  4. Keeping myself healthy
  5. Working
  6. Studying
  7. Doing sports
  8. Meditating
  9. Doing housework
  10. Running errands

Once again, this is only a sample list. I don’t even agree with it. But it demonstrates the idea. You can get more specific as you identify more specific projects. For instance, related to “Doing sports,” there may be “Running,” “Strength training,” and “Walking.” These sub-projects are related to the main one, but each of them may have a different priority. You need to try this out in order to see how much specificity is helpful to you.

Try to act according to your list once you have it. Make sure to spend an amount of time that feels sufficient to you on your top priorities. You may still be spending more hours working than taking care of your children, but this may feel appropriate to you. It’s not about the absolute number of hours that you spend on an activity; it’s about what amount of time you find appropriate to fulfill your projects.

Sometimes conflicts will happen, and you will have to make a compromise. For instance, even if you prefer to spend the evening with your boyfriend and your boyfriend is more important to you than your classes, you may still have to write a paper for your class that night. That’s just how it is sometimes. But in that case note that you have made a compromise with your priorities and make sure to spend another evening with your boyfriend in order to fulfill that priority.

Personally for me, my priorities list serves as a reminder about what’s most important to me. When I get pulled away by energy- and time-consuming tasks that are actually not central to my values, I can regain my perspective by glancing at my priorities list. For example, I may be spending hours and hours on this one assignment, worrying about whether I will manage to finish it and whether it will be good enough. At some point, I remember my priorities list though. There it clearly says that classes and thus assignments are less important than my physical and mental health. This allows me to take a breath and go more easily on myself. In this way I regain my perspective of what is most valuable and what is less valuable.

Let me know what you think about this! Do you find a priorities list helpful? Do you have a variation of this that you’d like to share?

I’d like to thank Rebecca Fraser-Thill from workingself.org for sharing this idea with me. I have found it quite useful!