The to-do list is a source of joy and disappointment for those who want to live a life of action. It feels amazing to check off tasks during our good days. It feels disappointing to see that list of unaccomplished tasks grow during bad times. The extremes result from considering every bullet point equally important. Finding a way to categorize the list can help mitigate this overwhelm.
This is why to-do apps always let you tag tasks based on a category — high, medium, low priority; to-do, doing, done; work, self, relationships. Breaking up the list into categories is helpful, but over time it loses relevance as our life changes and we relate to the initial categories less. The obvious solution would be to rename or adjust the categories. But pausing life to adjust our system again seems overwhelming, leading us to rely on the system even less. Eventually, we’re back to having one long list where each task is equally important.
If this feels like you, consider organizing your tasks by time intervals rather than by categories. For example, break up your list by what you want to do Today, This Week, This Month, Someday, Maybe. Here’s how that can look:
This time-based list style has a few benefits over the tag-based:
- It forces you to get real about your finitude sooner. A list of 20 things on a category-based list seems feasible to accomplish. But if you try fitting all those into your This Week list, you’ll force yourself to realize that you might not be able to accomplish everything as soon as you’d like
- It ritualizes list maintenance. Today is only relevant … today. This incentivizes you to either get things done today or reprioritize on a daily basis.
- The Someday and Maybe lists let you still capture the actions that are important to you without pressuring you to make them urgent.
Like it or not, you can’t get away from having some form of a to-do list. If you feel conflicted about your current to-list, I hope this shows that you still have the opportunity to make it work for you, rather than the other way around.