The Right Timing Can Make Your To-Do List Better

to do list

Pin ItTo-do lists don’t make themselves so those of us who use them have to set aside time to sit down and write out our list.  I’ve always made mine in the evening while sitting on the couch watching tv.

to-do list

But a while back I noticed I was struggling to make my list.  I was sitting on the couch with the planner on my lap and doing nothing.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t make a list.

I discovered I was dealing with peri-menopause symptoms of extreme fatigue and brain fog (among other things).  It got so bad that I talked to my doctor about it and ended up taking a low dose anti-depressant.  It made a HUGE difference.

My list making was much improved but still not great.  Making a list took way more effort than it needed to.  My husband, the brilliant man that he is, suggested I make my list at some other time of day.  He said that by the time I sat down, at 8:30 or 9:00, I was too tired to be thinking about something as important as what I was going to do the next day.  He suggested a better time to make the list might be right after dinner.

I had never in all my days of planning made a to-do list right after dinner.  Morning or evening were the right times to plan your day.  After dinner?  Could it work?  I decided to give it a try.

to do list

Guess what?  It works.  In fact, it works great.  Not only do I still have brain function left, but then I can spend my couch time doing things like quilting or reading instead of trying to make that list.  I also found that the list I made after dinner was more realistic and thoughtful.

So if you’re struggling to make a to-do list or you find that your to-do lists aren’t very good, maybe it’s time to try a different time of day.  There’s no rule that says you have to make your list first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  It’s your list – you can make it when you want.

When do you make your to-do list?  How is that time working for you?


Other time management and planner articles are available
in the Time Management Index.


Comments

  1. Great point! Sometime a change in timing can work wonders. I worked for years on an evening shift. I always felt like I was a night person. Then I was shifted to days and swing shifts (11-7) and noticed that I started getting a LOT more done at work and at home. I felt much more efficient. I think that I struggled to motivate myself to do home chores during the day and struggled to focus on work late at night.
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  2. I find it interesting that so many people sit down to make lists of things to do the next day. I’ve never done that. I add things to my days or months or lists as needed. So, if something needs to get done on a specific day I write in on that when I think of it. Likewise, if I run out of something, I add it to my “to buy” then. I think the only time I sit down to write a list for the next day (or the same day) is when I organize my errands. I plan to do a post on this in spefici detail, but I keep track of the places I need to go, and on the weekend when I have time, I plan out where to go in the order that allows me to save gas and not cross the highway 10 times.

    If I have more than a few things to do, I might make a second list before beginning just to sort out what needs to be done first, or if one to-do has multiple steps. A reordered list of what I’ve already got makes me think of it differently. Sometimes I wish I was a day-to-day list maker, but right now, I don’t have enough lists to focus on routinely like that.

    Good for you for finding a better time to organize the next day that allows you to really focus on what needs to get done!

    • So you don’t make a daily list at all? That’s how my husband is – he has a running list and just does whatever needs done next.

      My brain doesn’t work that way. If I don’t have a plan for the day, I won’t get anything done. And if I don’t write down my routine things, like laundry, dinner, sweep, tidy, etc. – I might forget to do them. I know that probably sounds insane to you, but that’s how my brain works.

      At the same time, I noticed that when I was working full-time, I didn’t need daily lists as much. My days were pretty much already planned out and there wasn’t much time for anything else. But being home full-time, it’s more complicated. For one thing, the list helps keep me focused and on task. I read something once that said the more “free” time and the more mundane the tasks, the more that needs written down. I wish I could find that again because it was brilliant and I’m not doing it justice.

      • Well, some days do have lists. But I don’t necessarily sit down every day to make a list for that or the next day. Any list I have usually grows organically in that I’ll add an item to a specific day when I realize it needs to be done. Some of those items come from a running list, like organizing projects — I have a running list, and when I have time or if I get to the point of really needing to do it sooner rather that later, I’ll pull it from the running list and add it to a specific day where I know I’ll have time to work on it.

        I do work full time, so the only days I have to really get quite a bit done at home are weekend days (depending on what else might be going on) and any days off during the week I have. I work one Saturday and one Sunday a month, so I get a day off during the week for those days — they are my most productive days at home since my husband will be working and I can focus on getting stuff done. In those cases, my list can get quite long and I’ll decide what needs to be done first. Anything that isn’t finished gets to moved to another day. But I don’t sit down every day to work on my next day’s list. I guess I don’t have enough going on at home to do that. I used to keep a list of routine things (like laundry) but those are the items I tend to do automatically anyway. They are just a part of my routine (come home from work, change, throw laundry in, start dinner, clean up from dinner, etc.).

        My work list is kept online (Wunderlist) because I find it easier to manipulate that way. I suppose in that regard I do create a list each day — at the end of every work day I look at what wasn’t done and move it to the next day. At the beginning of each work day, I look at the list and decide what needs to be done first.

        • Another thing to consider is the fact that I also use my list for motivation. When I worked full-time, I didn’t need that because I only had a little bit of time and I knew what needed done. Being home full-time, I have more time to manage so I have to plan ahead a little bit or I might waste it. You know that line about how the amount of work that needs done expands to fill the time you have? Having a list gives me focus and even though no one notices what I do, I at least get that little check mark when I’m done.

          It sounds like you have a great system and are very productive.

          I need to check out Wunderlist just for fun.

  3. I think the only real “right” time is the time that works for the individual.

    I like making my list first thing in the morning, but I also really like having it there and ready to go in the morning. So right now, I’m still flipping in and out of doing it at night and doing it in the morning. But this month I’m working on refining routines for all of us, so perhaps I’ll finally settle into something.
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    • Absolutely, Lisa. And we’re all different.

      You know, if it doesn’t bother you to flip back and forth between morning and evening, you can just do both. There may be times where it’s more practical to do it in the evening or to do it in the morning. You could just do it when you have an opportunity. The main thing is that you make the list.

  4. This is an interesting read. You bring up a good point about changing the time of day you plan if necessary. I plan when I need to and it could be on the weekend and other times on the weekdays. It could be during the day or at night. It isn’t really set in stone for me. However, I will plan for the next day if something is time sensitive. If I decide to complete some errands or go to some stores on a particular day it does not mean that I always planned it the day before. I could just decide to do so at that moment. The thought of consistently planning for the next day would make me feel too reliant on writing so many things on paper because then I would have to do that everyday or night. It probably works well for others. Also I just complete some automatic tasks or routine tasks as needed and I don’t feel that I have to track them. I used to track some routine tasks and other tasks on a detailed template but I stopped doing so. It was too micro management intensive.

    • So do you make a daily list?

      • I don’t particularly make daily lists. I plan for the week(s) on my week on two pages calendar. If I need to write something in on a day then I just write it on that day on the calendar. I keep a lot of note paper in my planner and jot lists and other notes on the note paper but it isn’t a daily list. So if I run some errands and have planned it the day before then I would write those errands on the day on my weekly page or on note paper. Maybe writing lists and notes on note paper is a type of daily list but I don’t plan everyday or night at a certain time. When I need to plan something I just write it on my calendar at that time. I complete household chores without tracking them and I don’t track every errand.

  5. Good point. Lists don’t have to be made at the end of the day. I usually add things to my list as the day progresses. But if I am to make a list I’ve noticed that after lunch works great for me. I’m not a morning person although I have to be at work early, it’s just not a time when I can think very clearly.
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