You may have heard of bullet journaling. It is a method for organizing daily tasks and documenting life events. There are several variations to bullet journals and in the end I decided to leave most of the symbols and documentation behind, retaining only the essence of the system: a daily to-do list.
There is nothing nuanced about a to-do list but there are five factors about a list formatted in the bullet journal style which prove effective.
First, you should know the qualities of a bullet journal to-do list:
- A separate list for each day
- Day of the week, month and day as the heading (Friday – April 2)
- A list of daily tasks & daily events
- Short, succinct (1-3 word) descriptions of tasks and events
- Unfinished tasks rewritten on a future list
Now I can tell you why this method is effective:
- You keep moving. Using short descriptions and key words to trigger our memory makes it easy to take in our day with a brief glance and not waste time hovering over a piece of paper, sifting through details that are unnecessary. Usually one or two words is a sufficient prompt for your brain to fill in the gaps.
- You remember. We all forget to pick up the dry cleaning or switch the load of laundry in the washer. When my stress level is higher than usual, I struggle to remember what I am doing from one room to the next. Can you relate? There are days all my mental and emotional energy has been drained and that is why I have no idea why I walked into my bedroom when the dishwasher is half-loaded. During seasons of scatter-brained exhaustion, a to-do list has helped me get a grasp on my day. Out of a helpless and honest need to survive the day, I have made to-do lists full of the simplest, step-by-step tasks. Sometimes this is the only way for me to stay on track, undistracted. It is a means to stability I return to frequently.
- You prioritize. When you look at a complete list of tasks for your day, you gain greater clarity on how to divide your time. If something must get done, you will easily see what can wait. From a visual perspective, dirty dishes may be the first thing calling for my attention when I wake up in the morning, but from a planning perspective I know I only have a few hours to run errands before my two-year-old’s nap time, so it’s imperative that I put the dishes on hold and do those things first.
- You complete. Who doesn’t love crossing something off a list? Be it a grocery list, chore chart, or gathering required documents for a passport or insurance. It is satisfying to strike a line through a word, or put a check mark next to it and mentally dismiss it for good. There is a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of your day when you can glance over a list of tasks that you have successfully crossed off. Even if it is something you would normally do anyway (like make your bed, or check the mail) you have a greater sense of productivity when you see tangible, collective proof of those actions.
- You eliminate. At the end of the day, whatever has not been crossed off my list is transferred to the next day’s list, (or maybe a list for further in the week). If the task I’ve added is not of great importance or perhaps requires more effort on my part to complete, it gets transferred several times. But I have found that when I have re-written that incomplete task for yet another day’s to-do list, I either get tired of it staring me in the face and I buckle down and GET IT DONE, or I decide that it wasn’t as important as I originally thought, and eliminate it from my list. Either way, I feel liberated!
To give you an example, my day may include: Dropping off the dry cleaning, picking up a library book, doing a load of laundry, sweeping the floor, mending a shirt, meeting a friend for a play-date at the park, resolving a billing issue with our internet provider (WOW!), writing a thank-you note and figuring out what I’m making for dinner.
My to-do list would look like this:
Halfway through my day, I have usually added several things and moved several things to the next day because I know I simply won’t have time to do it all.
If I end up postponing “Fix Shirt” another two times, I’ll either get fed up with my procrastination and finally mend the darn thing, or I’ll realize that the shirt just isn’t that important to me and toss it in the donation pile.
I realize to-do lists are as old as time, but I have an endless appreciation for the efficiency they bring to my life on a moment-by-moment basis. If you are not usually a list maker, give it a try! I think you will be surprised by what an effective tool it is.