The Value of Maintaining a "To Do List"


One of the biggest pieces of advice that I give to people when they are feeling completely overwhelmed is to take a few breaths and create a to-do list.  When we create a to-do list or a "brain dump" we are able to get everything that is on our mind out onto paper.  Projects that we've been meaning to tackle, people that we've been meaning to call, appointments that we need to make, emails that need to be responded to, etc.  I have to admit it can be a little scary when you get to the end of a brain dump, look down at your page and see bullet point after bullet point of things that need to get done.  However isn't there some peace in it?  Doesn't it feel good to know that all of these things that you've been trying to keep track of in your head are now out of it and down where you can see them and address them?  Making a to-do list is one ways that we make room for peace in our lives. 

It is a practice that most of us grow into.  It is not something that we naturally want to do but something that after doing it a number of times and observing the benefits of, make a habit of doing.  Its stubborness really that keeps us from creating to-do lists.  I know that I used to be one of those people that was like, "no its good - I am able to keep track of things in my head, on my phone, and through post-it notes."  While those mental notes are well and good there is nothing like having a clear master to-do list in which you can reference daily.  There are a lot of materials out there that can help you create a system that works best for you however I have found that what works best for me, along with a lot of other people, is creating and maintaining a daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual to-do list.  Maintaining these may sound like a headache but in reality it gives such peace of mind.  By setting clear goals and creating actionable steps to achieve them, you are ultimately setting yourself up for success.  You know what you want, you know what your values are, and you figure out how you are going to achieve them.

Rather than creating broad, open-ended tasks, it best to write down actionable steps that can be done in a short period of time.  For example, instead of writing in my planner today, "write blog post" I referenced my blog calendar (a.k.a a spreadsheet that maps out what I plan on writing a year out) and wrote "write blog post: the value of creating a to-do list".  I could have written on anything however this is a topic that I have been wanting to cover so I made it a specific task.  Another example is that today I would love to get outside and exercise.  So again, instead of just writing "exercise" I wrote "walk: in park for 30 mins".  By writing these tasks down in a specific way we are envisioning doing them.  We are subconsciously considering what it will feel like to do them, how we will achieve them, and the result that will come of it.  We are creating a plan.

Now plans can change.  Sometimes we write these tasks down and for whatever reason, they don't get done today or this quarter.  Sometimes these tasks or goals that we have are not meant to be; life has other plans.  For instance at the beginning of this summer one of my goals/tasks was to work with a graphic designer to have a logo, graphics and business cards made for Making Room for Peace.  This was a priority for me; something that I really wanted to get done.  However a bigger priority that I had already set was to hire a photographer to capture some quality images of me in my home for the blog and for my business.  Both of these things are investments and cost a lot of money.  After looking at my budget I had to make the decision to post-pone the graphic designer until this winter.  Its not that I don't plan on accomplishing this task but that I had to make difficult, educated decision and move this task to a later time.

One of the many was that my boss invested in me while I was working at my previous job was by providing me with a Franklin Covey Planner.  When I was in school I had always made good use of my planner however since graduating I had fallen into the habit of writing notes and tasks down on pieces of paper, which led me to becoming a bit disorganized.  One of the things that I loved the most about this planner that she gave me was they way in which it was intended to be used.  Like most planners, there was a space for each day of the week in which you could write down tasks and appointments.  However she taught me that there are simple symbols that you can use to take this to the next level.  She explained that after writing your to-do list for the day, go back and next to your most important tasks - the ones that you had to accomplish today, write the letter A.  The most important task you would write: "A1", the second most important: "A2", and so on.  Your next category of tasks, the ones that would be great if you accomplished today but maybe could be accomplished throughout the coming week was categorized "B".  Just as by taking it a step further and writing out: "A1, A2, A3.." you would write: "B1, B2, B3.."  We also created a category (C) for more general tasks, tasks that would be good to accomplish this quarter.  Having all of these written down and noted by level of importance greatly improved my productivity and took my to-do lists to another level.

You don't need a Franklin Covey planner to maintain this sort of system.  I use a lot of what I learned from this resource and have applied it to my own simple planner that I use today.  Along with prioritizing my tasks in a "A, B, and C" fashion, another feature that I continue to use is a group of symbols that you can write down next to your tasks at the end of the day.  For those that you had accomplished you would write a check mark.  For those tasks that needed to be forwarded to another time you would write an arrow pointing to the right.  For those that you decided were no longer beneficial or relevant you would write an "x" next to, and then not record them anymore.  For the tasks where you were in the process of completing you would write a draw a bullet point.  And for those tasks that you delegated to another team member you would write their initials and then a "/".  It took a little while to get use to this system when it was first taught to me however I quickly grew to love it.  When asked where a project was or if I task had been completed I was able to refer to me planner, my to-do list, and say with confidence where it was at.  Even for those of us who no longer work for a business but perhaps are are own boss or are stay at home parents, using tools such as this can be very helpful for maintaining our tasks at hand.

Something that I began doing a year or so leading up to college was instead of calling my "to-do list" a to-do list I called it my "to accomplish list".  To me, this slight change in verbiage put a completely different/positive spin on this thing that can sometimes feel overwhelming.  This list that goes on and on noting tasks related to everything from work to school, relationships, finances, and more.  It is something that can keep us up at night; waking us in fear that we might have forgotten to take care something.  I mean, doesn't that just sound better?  To accomplish.  It is another synonym for "do" - a verb, that means to execute, carry out and act.  The word "accomplish" on the other hand means to achieve or complete successfully; to bring about a goal to conclusion.  It describes not just doing something but doing something well.  It evokes a feeling of empowerment and pride.  It encourages us to envision what it will look like and feel like to complete the tasks at hand.

 My challenge to you today is to take a look at how you are viewing your to-do list.  Do you even have one?  If the answer is no, consider the value that we talked about today and create on.  Just start out doing a "brain dump" like we had mentioned above and just write out all of the things that are one your mind that you need or would like to accomplish.  You'll quickly see that they will fall into weekly, quarterly and annual categories allowing you some perspective on their importance and how you plan to go about executing them.  Remember that its more than about just crossing another thing off your list but crossing it off with peace, knowing that you've done something well.



1.) Grab a piece of paper and write down all of tasks that you need and wish to accomplish.  (Remember to make these attainable goals/steps).

2.) Go down the list and for each task, consider why you haven't addressed it yet.  Is it because of time, money, or perhaps uncertainty in your decision?  Write the reason down next to each task.

3.) Commit to change.  Pull out your calendar and set aside a time and date to address every item on your to-do list.  Now take a deep breath!  You are about to experience some peace my friend.



Photography by Zoe Grant.