Turn your to-do lists into to-done lists

Why to-do lists are a counterproductive, awful time-management habit

Claire Schoenemann

More stories from Claire Schoenemann

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November 21, 2022
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Checklist with tick marks in a flat style. Questionnaire on a clipboard paper. Successful completion of business tasks. Checklist, tasks, to-do list, survey, exam concepts. Vector illustration.

As I type this sentence, I am actively procrastinating assignments that are higher up on my to-do list than this very article. As a die-hard, color-coordinating to-do list queen, I am telling you to please stop using them as a study and time management tool.

I know what you’re thinking. If this one girl from The Spectator uses to-do lists, why on earth is she telling us all not to?

Here’s the tea: lists, specifically ones of the to-do nature, are not the organizational tool we were all told they are. 

Recently, while procrastinating my ever-growing list of things to get done, I came across a TikTok from icon influencer herself, Lexi Hidalgo

In the mentioned TikTok, Hidalgo referenced something about changing your mindset. Instead of thinking to yourself, ‘I have so much to get done today,’ we should all be shifting our mindsets to ‘I get to do and learn about so many things today.’

I originally saw this video as the weekend was nearing closer, so naturally I had an accumulating list of things to get done in my free time. But when I saw this message, I started thinking about my approach to things. 

One continuous habit of mine is that I tend to address my easiest tasks first on my list of things to accomplish. Who doesn’t, right? It seems easier to address the easiest of tasks first, to get things going. 

In reality, this mindset makes us less productive. Habitually creating lists of miniscule things to make our brains feel better about getting them done is, figuratively, a form of procrastination. 

Actually, it makes things worse a lot of the time. Instead of completing the more complex of tasks, we occupy our time with things we really could just keep in the back of our head. 

Putting ‘laundry’ on your to-do list is so out of style. 

At this point, I hope you are on the edge of your seat, begging to know what I have started doing instead. 

First of all, please change your mindset. A positive spin on whatever form of list you choose can make all the difference. Aside from eliminating nonsense tasks, there’s a few things you can do.

I am not telling you outlaw lists from your life. Trust me, I will continue to make them an everyday occurrence and tool in my life. 

Instead of making a week-long list that looms over you in your free time, put down the planner. 

This is an amazing way to seize back your free time instead of trying to constantly remember that you have more things waiting for you to do back at home, school or work.

My final opinion on to-do lists is their hopeful transformation into to-done lists. 

After doing some thoughtful consideration on how to transform my mindset, I came across an astonishing substitute, and concept, to-done lists.

In theory, to-do lists allow you to keep track of things that have been on your roster to complete, and still get the satisfaction of allowing you to cross them off. This allows peace of mind in your free time, but still ensures the ability to keep track of what is done. 

This concept directly relates to changing your ‘have to-do’ mindset as well. Instead of a dreadful list of things looming over, you are left with the fabulous energy of things that you have completed.

While the to-done method certainly won’t be for everyone, it is something that I will be trying as a college student with constant, impending to-do’s. I encourage everyone who struggles with work-life balance to do the same. 

Schoenemann can be reached at [email protected].