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To Do Lists - Do they help or hinder you?

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

To do lists are like marmite some people cannot function without it (Me!) or they do not find them useful. Everyone has their own way to keep up with their tasks and personal objectives.

As well as a fashionista, I am a project manager and have learnt to apply some of the processes I use at work in my personal life, one of them is the to do list.

It seems quite a simplistic strategy, get a pen and paper and list all things you need/want to do and cross them when they have been completed. Simple! That is what I used to do, but then I realised not many things got crossed off from my list and the list kept growing which would overwhelm me.

I always hesitate to apply some ‘processes’ to my life because I wanted my personal life to flow organically and naturally, it just didn’t seem natural to have a strategy/process etc. Having a to do list may make you think you are making your life quite rigid. However, with time, I came to realise that if I wanted to achieve certain things in my life, I needed a bit more structure, I need a plan and a list (but a proper one) that would entice me to get things done. A combination of to do list with goals.

For the less believers on to do lists, I would like to invite you to reflect about it, you may even find in you to reconsider if to do lists can help you in future. Once I got started to use to do lists effectively and sensibly, I started making some first personal productivity breakthroughs, and started achieving a number of things that had been on a to do list for years and just got carried over from one list to another.

Without further ado I will share with you what worked for me


1. List everything

I made a long list, I added anything and everything I wanted to achieve or complete, there were items from day to day things, home improvements, personal projects, family objectives, finance assessment etc.

2. Organise and categorise your list

Create themes for your list, i.e. Finances, Home Stuff, Family, etc. Start organising your super list into the relevant topics/themes. Create topics that are relevant for your own situation.

3. Prioritise

The list was so big that I had to allocate priorities. This would allow me to make a start on some immediate MUST do tasks and focus on the medium/long term tasks. This is how I prioritised:

a) As soon as possible – this were some key/urgent tasks that could no longer wait.

b) Within the next 3 months – Medium term tasks.

c) 6 months – Long term tasks.

4. Understand the requirements of each task

Some tasks will be large by nature (i.e. living room redecoration) and this can overwhelm us and that’s the reason why most of us fail to start on big tickets, simply because we don’t know where to start or keep doing random things ineffectively. If they are large tasks, break out the first three logical steps to give you a starting point. Once these steps are done you can establish the next 3 steps.

Some arguments I came across from non-believers on to do list:

- I never stick to lists

This could be a legitimate reason but my observation is that, in general, people overestimate how much they can achieve in a day and underestimate what can be achieved in 6 months/1 year with a little bit of planning.

- I like flexibility, life is dynamic and priorities change

That’s exactly what a to do list can do for you. As tasks/objectives become no longer relevant you can move them to the No Longer Relevant category, and they come off your main list. You can also change the priorities as circumstances changes and add new tasks. I review my list every week.


Being well organized in your personal life will provide you with the satisfaction of achieving things and tackling those little things that we never seem to have the time to do. Here it is what worked for me and I hope works for you as well.

  • You transfer your to do list from your brain to a piece of paper or software. That frees your brain to get into action mode rather than be used for storage.

  • You have a structure that will motivate you to carry out all tasks.

  • You tackle the most essential/must do jobs first, and do not waste time on irrelevant tasks.

  • You feel less stressed and in control

  • Leaving things to chance or solely relying on your memory you risk not achieving your objectives or do things in a random way without any effectiveness.

  • Makes you more reliable to achieve your own personal plans/tasks. A to do list does not forget!

  • It will save you time on the long run.

  • The best thing for me, it is to know what I have achieved over a period of time as I can track my progress! Accountability!

  • Studies have shown that people perform better when they have written down what they need to do.

  • I prefer to use an app because it gives me options to add pictures, on-going information, ideas etc. Some other folks prefer pen-and-paper and that is fine too.

  • Be realistic, if you want to give yourself a deadline, days are dynamic and creating unrealistic deadlines will demotivate you

On a personal level, my to do list helped me achieve some personal projects, one of them was my citizenship application and that's how I went about it:

It was on the back of my mind, stored on my brain to do list. However, every time I thought about it, I would give up in 5 minutes as the process overwhelmed me. 5 years passed and that remained in my to do list, I just carried over from one year to another in my brain storage. Once I transferred from my brain to a list (I use an app on my phone to do this which can also be accessed via desktop) and broke down the first 3 steps I was able to make a start.

My first 3 tasks were:

a) Read the guidance (about 50 pages) and note key important points.

I realised I need a couple of hours to read, digest and make notes, so I made the time for that.

b) Make a list of all documentation I would need to have in hand and place these documents in a folder (i.e. documents, photo, etc)

There were a number of different documents I had to have, and some were easy to access others I had to dig through many files/folders. I dedicated few hours on a weekend to complete this task.

c) Print the form and complete the first section of the form.

Once I had all documents in a little folder I could make a start on the form, the first section was a long one and I had to refer to the documents. I needed at least one hour or so to fill it in, edit and review until I was happy that all information was accurate.

Once I completed the 3 initial tasks I set another 3 tasks until the whole application was completed, it took me 3 months to complete the application as I was juggling this with other must do tasks. Maybe I could have done it in weeks if I had fully dedicated my free time for that, but the important thing for me was that I made a start and could track my progress.

The citizenship was a little project that required different steps/tasks in a particular order, in my brain I could not figure it out where to start. As soon as I got organised, I managed to get through the process without feeling overwhelmed and was awarded my citizenship 6 months later. More importantly, my to do list made me accountable to my own goal.

I am sure that you have things stored in your brain that you’ve been wanting to do for some time, and just never found the time or the right time to make a start.

Making a to do list of your non-work/career goals, you are making a start to achieve things in your life, which in turn, will provide you with a feeling of accomplishment and personal fulfilment. Remember that your to do list is not necessarily only about a bunch of mundane tasks that you need to do, but it can also be part of your exciting personal project too!

Do you keep a to do list? Let me know your tips.

If you do not keep a to do list (outside your brain), do you think you may consider starting one and fulfilling your personal goals?

Best wishes,


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