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A publication from Medium on personal development.

To Do List

In Forge. More on Medium.

A 10-minute exercise that can help you get a handle on everything that’s happening in your life

Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

There’s a drawing by New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck that I think about often. A cross-section of a woman’s brain reveals partitions containing everything from thoughts about the climate disaster and work deadlines to what to have for lunch and the prospect of kangaroos going extinct.

It’s funny because it’s true: Our brains comprise so much, from the utterly inconsequential to the terrifyingly existential, all day every day.

But when life feels overwhelming — and truly, when does it not?—I’ve noticed that my brain’s system for allocating real estate can go a little haywire. I will start to make space…

🛑 Tip: Stop where your to-do list stops.

This piece of advice from Catherine Andrews is so simple, yet it managed to hit us at our core. “When you actually complete your to-do list, don’t add on more just for the sake of it, because you have the time,” she writes on Medium. “Stop where your list stops.” When you do this, she explains, you’re trusting that what you have set out to do is enough. Because it is. This is a difficult concept to grasp for all of us who have it programmed in our brains that we need…

📋 Today’s tip: Write your to-do list on a piece of paper.

There are so many neat apps and other digital tools out there that promise to keep us more organized and on-task, and thank goodness, in These Scattered Times, for that. But sometimes, as Rosie Spinks writes for Forge, the absolute best to-do list is the one you write down, with a pen, on paper.

This is not just for the usual reasons (writing something by hand can help solidify it in your brain, etc). As Spinks points out, a written to-do list can be as intimate and revealing…

I’d be mortified if anyone read my daily tasks from the past year

Photo: Grace Cary/Getty Images

A lot of people despise the tyrannical, never-ending nature of to-do lists. I am not one of them. To-do lists have always imbued a sense of order into my world. To-do lists keep track of things I can’t. In my life, to-do lists are a friend, not a foe.

About a year ago, I switched back to a paper and pen to write my daily list. Life in pandemic shutdown was simply too overwhelming and too dominated by screens to continue using my phone’s Notes app to keep track of each bizarre day. …

If you haven’t done these things in a year, now is the time

Woman cleaning her kitchen with a smile.
Woman cleaning her kitchen with a smile.
Photo: Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

Many of us have spent the past few weeks acknowledging the anniversaries: of the last time we went to an office, or that our children went to school, or that we ate inside a restaurant.

It’s a sad time, and a strange one, but it’s a hopeful one, too. After a long year-plus, every one of those anniversaries is for something we may be able to do again somewhat soon. Which means that right now, about a year since the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic, is a good moment to start readying your life to expand again.


✍️ Today’s tip: Make an “I did” list.

When you’re overwhelmed, your to-do list can feel as long as one of those never-ending CVS receipts. A way to quickly regain perspective is to stop, put your list of tasks aside, and write down all the things you’ve already done that day.

The writer Lena Gilbert explained on Medium how she uses this technique when she’s feeling unraveled — on one particular day, her list of accomplishments included putting away laundry, getting her son logged onto Zoom, and watching the news. …

Today’s tip: Reduce your subconscious stress by closing some loops.

As James Surowiecki writes in Forge, having “open loops”—that is, unfinished tasks on your list—is surprisingly exhausting. That’s because even if you’re not consciously thinking about them, they’re still draining mental energy in the background, making it hard to focus on what you’re actually doing in the moment.

And this applies to low-stakes, small open loops too. Even the fun ones, like a list of unwatched TV shows you keep meaning to burn through. So, as Surowiecki writes, “Deal with them, so your mind can stop worrying about them…

The lists you aren’t making but should be

Image source: seamartini/Getty Images

We make all kinds of lists: To-do lists. Grocery lists. Bucket lists. Anti-bucket lists. Making lists helps us corral information and get our heads around big tasks. Some research has shown that it can keep us from ruminating about what we haven’t done.

But lists are still a tragically underused tool. They’re great for productivity and big goals, sure, but when you get creative with them, that’s where the magic really happens. A good list can streamline your days and improve your weeks in radical, unexpected ways. …

It’s preventing you from becoming truly effective

Person checking off their to-do list.
Person checking off their to-do list.
Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

After managing large teams across Google for many years, and now, as an investor, having the chance to observe dozens of highly effective startups, I’ve seen there is one major difference between people who are “just” productive and those who are truly effective: knowing how to prioritize.

My own relationship with prioritization is a perpetual work-in-progress. I still fall back into a habit I’ve long tried to break: working on the stuff that seems easiest to complete, or the tasks that give me the most satisfaction or accolades, or simply the latest item that came in, rather than what I…

Here’s how a productivity writer approaches her to-do list

Young woman standing on top of tall green bar graph against white background.
Young woman standing on top of tall green bar graph against white background.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Although I write about creativity and productivity for a living, my to-do list is a nightmare. Every day, it’s about a page long with 40 to 50 items. There are categories, subcategories, incremental tasks. Do I check everything off my list every day? No. And that’s the entire point. My list is about the urgent, everyday things, but also about the larger scale, capital-I-Important things I don’t want to lose sight of.

It’s a mess but it’s an inspiring mess. If you keep the bigger possibilities visible — through, yes, staring them down every morning — you remember what all…


A publication from Medium on personal development.

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