I’m just 1 person with a long To Do list. Some days, I’ve been known to have upwards of 40 items on my list. And if something goes onto my list, I feel a bit like a failure if I go to bed without completing it. As you might have guessed, the drive to do the impossible and feel completely accomplished leads to my staying up late to try to get work done and waking up feeling exhausted. The cycle of staying up late and hating when my alarm wakes me up the next morning is a tough one for me to break. Honestly, I’m still working on it. But I’ve got a trick that helps a bit.
When I admitted to a health coach through my insurance plan that I wasn’t getting enough sleep each night and was pretty sure my long list of unfinished things was the problem, the coach suggested I make a list each day of just 3 things to do. Once I’d done those 3 things, she explained, I could feel accomplished for having done my entire list and spend some time doing something fun and/or relaxing to help me recharge. This would allow me to go to sleep feeling good and wake up feeling ready to tackle another set of things.
Perhaps it was all the times I’d watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail in my youth or perhaps it was the sheer impossibility of decreasing my long To Do list to just 3 items, but I ended up deciding 5 was a more reasonable number for me.
I use a small whiteboard (purchased from a dollar store) by my desk to make my list of 5 things every morning during breakfast. It doesn’t take long, so it was easy to incorporate into my morning routine. At the end of each day, I check off what I’ve done and post a photo of the board on Instagram. It’s a sort of photo diary, and my Instagram followers are probably bored by them, but it keeps me accountable. I use Habitica to remind me to post my list every day.
Here are some of the things I learned by focusing on my 5 things to do today:
- My giant To Do lists often contain tasks that could be done on other days or during a whole week. By writing a list for just the current day, it helps me focus on what needs to be done right now.
- It also reminds me that there are only so many hours in a day, and it’s important to set reasonable daily goals for myself.
- This is the same focus method that works well for short, rapid journaling in bullet journals, so I can record my things each day in my BuJo then feel the satisfaction of erasing the whiteboard.
- There are items I do every day that still belong on the list. Just because they’ve become a habit doesn’t make them any less important. If it’s necessary for me to do them in a day, they should go on my list of things to do during that day.
- Some days, my 5 things are 6. Or 8. Or 10. Once or twice, I’ve even used the backside of the whiteboard. But most days it’s 5 things. And on the days when it is just 5, I feel much better and more accomplished.
- I’ve also cheated and had some mental items that don’t make onto the list. But I try to prioritize the things on the list.
- On days when I don’t get all 5 things done, the feeling of failure is pretty intense. In fact, it might be worse than only getting half of a long list done. I use that feeling as more motivation to work on getting the 5 things done. But I try not to be hard on myself if one of my things takes much longer than I’d anticipated and I don’t get to something else.
- It’s fun to be creative with colors and change-up types of lists (bullets, checkboxes, numbered items, etc.) based on how I feel.
- New whiteboard markers are worth spending money on when it’s tough to read your writing using your current markers.
As a birthday present to myself, I’m giving myself a new whiteboard to use with even less space on which to write. I hope that it will help me keep from putting extra things on my lists.