The Life Changing Magic of Making a To-Do List

To-do lists are a great tool that people can use to reduce anxiety and be more effective at completing daily tasks.

Sometimes the hardest thing about getting things done is getting started. Most people procrastinate from time to time. For example, we may delay doing household tasks like emptying the dishwasher or put off completing an assignment for work or school until the last minute.

While occasional or mild procrastination is common, some people have a lot of difficulty starting or completing many tasks. Unfortunately, many people with depression and anxiety have problems with procrastination and when tasks are uncompleted it can result in further stress and guilt. In addition, the changes in daily routine and loss of structure that has occurred during the pandemic can also make it difficult to be productive. Whatever the reason for procrastination, there are strategies that can help.

One way to manage procrastination is by using a to-do list. Lists can help by breaking down tasks into manageable bits and give a sense of accomplishment when completed. Breaking the cycle of unmet goals is possible.

Here are a few tips for effective to-do lists.

1. Write it down on paper or use an electronic device, like a smart phone or computer. The process of making of the list is helpful as you decide on the items and visualize yourself completing the tasks.

2. Start small and consider your mood and energy level. It is better to complete one or two small tasks a day than to create a list that you can not realistically complete.

3. In occupational therapy we divide tasks into self-care (taking a shower, getting a manicure), productivity (emptying the dishwasher, completing a school or work assignment) and leisure (going for a run, meeting a friend for coffee). Any activity is fair game for a to-do list.

4. Include enjoyable tasks. To-do lists don’t have to be all work and no play. It’s a great idea to add in something that you find fun or improves your mood.

5. Break down bigger jobs into manageable chunks. For example, if you want to weed a big garden you can plan to do one half one weekend and the other half the following weekend. Alternatively, you could pick an amount of time you want to spend on an activity, for example study for 45 minutes.

6. Include prep work as its own task. This can be gathering or shopping for supplies or creating an outline for a school paper.

7. Set a schedule or don’t. Some people find it helpful to have set times to do things and it helps them get started. Leave room for flexibility – your day might not go exactly as planned!

8. Use deadlines only if you find them motivating. If they increase your anxiety, don’t set a timeline or keep it flexible.

9. Remember to leave time for breaks and self-care. Activity should always be balanced with rest and recovery.

10. Check it off when you are done and give yourself a reward!