Making A Daily To-Do List Isn’t Necessarily Once & Done




My daughter and I have been trying to be more productive so we’ve been texting each other our to-do lists.  At the end of each day, we send the current day’s list (hopefully completed) and the next day’s list.  This seemed like a great idea. Accountability, you know.

But I’ve learned something during this process.  That’s not how I make a to-do list.  My daughter, Rachel, sits down each evening and writes down what she’s going to do the next day.  And then when she gets up the next morning, she starts tackling that list.  She occasionally makes some small changes but that’s about it.

Not me.  At the end of the day my to-do list rarely resembles the list I started out with.  Making a to-do list for my life is like trying to hit a moving target.   I have all kinds of issues, including:

  1. After I make my list, I immediately think of at least three more things I need to add to it – things I can’t believe I forgot!
  2. When I’m lying in bed for the night, I think of at least two more tasks but I don’t get up and write them down because I don’t want to bother my husband. So I say them over and over and over in my head hoping it will cement them in my mind so I’ll remember them when I get up in the morning. In case you’re wondering, I don’t remember them.
  3. When I wake up in the morning and look at the list, my initial reaction is always, “I don’t know who wrote that list but I’m not doing it.” I guess it’s the rebel in me.  I don’t like to be told what to do, even by myself.  And the list that looked pretty good last night looks completely unreasonable in the morning.
  4. But once I get going, the list I made the night before doesn’t seem so bad. Then something happens and my schedules changes.  I make adjustments but before the ink is dry, I have to make more. By then I decide to scrap the list and start over.
  5. I make a new plan. Then I repeat #4 – same song, second verse.
  6. Oh, and all day long I think of more things that need to be done today or sometime soon. I add those to the list.
  7. By dinner time I’m lamenting the fact that I didn’t get anything done that was on my list. But when I tell my husband what I did today, there’s actually a lot of stuff – it’s just not the stuff on any of the lists.
  8. And then it’s couch time and I start the whole thing over again.

You see what I mean?  Now, if I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that some of the changes (okay, maybe more than some) are instigated by me.  Yes, I regularly screw up my schedule by getting sidetracked with odds & ends that sound more interesting than the tasks on my list.  And yes, in case you were wondering, I do have ADHD!

So here are a few thoughts about moving target to-do lists.

  • They’re not necessarily a bad thing.  As long as you’re getting done what you need to, who cares if you revise your plan four or five or ten times.
  • Some people have lives that are very predictable and one to-do list will work just fine.  But not everybody does.  If you don’t have that predictable life, don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong if you have to revise your daily plan multiple times.
  • Some people, even those with crazy lives, can look at their plan and revise it in their head.  That’s awesome.  I can’t do that.  I have to actually revise it on paper or I feel frazzled and stressed and wonder what to do next.  But re-writing it on paper gives me clarity about what needs done next and what can be skipped.
  • Sometimes you have to stick to your plan and sometimes it’s okay to do something else.  If you have a plan to start with, it’s much easier to make changes.
  • You have to do what works for you.  I couldn’t work with Rachel’s list and she couldn’t work with mine.  We’re different people at different phases of life and we plan accordingly.  So whether you make one list each day or five, you get to make the rules.

That’s my take on the moving target to-do list.  What kind of life and lists do you have?

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Born in Kentucky, I am a wife and mom to 1 son and 2 daughters . I have an ink pen obsession, as well as a love for all things planner. I have been married for 10 years to my high school crush. I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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17 thoughts on “Making A Daily To-Do List Isn’t Necessarily Once & Done

  1. Try as I might, I just can not make my list at the end of the day. I’ve just finished my today’s list. If I even start on tomorrow’s list, it’s guaranteed to keep me up all night. Any thinking about to do list stuff has to wait for that morning coffee, and then its more of an “oh yeah, I might as well do that” or “while you’re there dear.” That second kind still applies to me.

    1. That makes sense, Carla. I hadn’t thought about the fact that you sort of lose the pleasure at completing today’s list if you’re already thinking about tomorrow. Good point.

  2. Yes, to-do lists do have a mind of their own!
    For the ones that bug me after I’ve snuggled into bed, I keep a small, pocket craft notebook and pen on my nightstand under my cell which charges. If I think of something (and I KNOW I won’t remember it in the a.m.) rather than get up, I reach for the notebook (using the light from my cell to see) and jot it down, then transfer it to my planner in the morning.

  3. I much prefer an edit-able to-do list. While I try my best to make the day’s list to be as realistic as possible, it’s just not always going to work out. Each list is made the night before. A lot can happen while I’m sleeping – be it a great idea for something entirely different to work on, to ending up in pain and not being able to do anything the next day. Some days I end up getting a ton more stuff done than I thought I would, and I just add that on the list as completed tasks.
    Then again, I’ve never been one to think of a to-do list as a concrete thing. I’ve always been under the impression that they are moldable and changeable, as the needs arise. 🙂

  4. That’s so funny! I had to read it to my husband (who never makes a list and didn’t see why it was so funny). Yeah, #3, always. Then I feel really bad. So I ‘m going to do that morning list-making thing instead (even though I’ll be up all night trying to remember the things creeping into my mind as I try to drift off to sleep). I’m thinking about slapping a (large) post it on my page and doing my list on that, then writing in (all nice and pretty) at end of day what I really did.

  5. homey – this is great. the to-do list is a work in progress, constantly evolving. i need to have three of them: the long one, everything goes on it. the reasonable one – things that are important and i might actually do. the short one – no more than 5 items, and as i do one (whew!) i cross it off (yea!). i make a real effort to get at least one of the 5 done every day, and a moderate effort to actually hold the list to 5. works a lot better when i do.
    will probably post on this (that goes onto the reasonable list)

  6. LOL! Really identified with many points, especially my rebelling at my own lists! For example, I’ll have “master” task lists up in different parts of the house, to “remind” me. Then NOT even LOOK at them. And if I do look at them, decide to IGNORE them “that day”. I appreciate the moving target image. That really hit home. I’m a retired grandma “on call” 24/7 and cannot expect to have a structured schedule, as much as I would LIKE to replicate my old job’s weekly set-up (btw, your blog on work org vs. home org also hit home). First things first, and the grandkids come first, especially since their dad had a major health issue recently. I am delighted to have found you and am learning much from your posts and videos. Gracias!

  7. i keep small notepaper/pen in the bathroom. ok….i am thinking about something i want to remember the next day? on my mind…???
    time for a BATROOM visit Batman! make notes to self, leave on bathroom counter so i will see the next morning. works OK more or less.
    does not happen very often thank goodness. I do list the 1-10 numbers in my 2page/compact planner but often just write in FIVE ITEMS TO DO.
    i try to keep it simple whenever possible.

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