Why You Should Make To-do Lists
I’m a big fan of to-do lists, making a list of what needs to be done on a daily basis and holding myself accountable. It does wonders for my productivity and stops projects from falling through the cracks.
Every week I’ve been trying to post a video and a blog post. Since school ended, I’ve been missing weeks. Somehow, with more free time, I’m getting less done. I attribute this to the illusion of more time phenomenon, a phrase I just made up. Basically, when you have a ton of free time, you don’t think you need to plan things out because you assume what needs to be done will happen eventually, given all the available hours. But time has a way of slipping through our fingers, and only in retrospect do we notice it was wasted.
When I’m working on a project, I break down what little bit I can do each day. For instance, when planning a video for a song I already know, all I have to do is practice it a few times daily. It’s the same when I’m planning to record. I just practice my part to a metronome every day leading up to the day I record. It’s incredibly easy to do, but greatly improves the outcome.
In his book, Keep Going, Austin Kleon writes, “A little imprisonment – if it’s of your own making – can set you free. Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life…” (20). My advice to anyone starting a to-do list, start small. It can feel great to write a bunch of stuff down – imaging yourself as an unstoppable, productivity machine – but don’t overdue it. It’s better to have a small, completed list than a large, unfinished one.
That being said, don’t be discouraged when you fail. You may find that you “weren’t modest enough in your estimation,” to steal a line from Jordan Peterson. A good strategy for me is to put down the bare minimum of what needs to be done, but then make a secondary “If there’s time” list. Anything on the “If there’s time” list is strictly optional, and considered extra. That way, I accomplish more if I’m able to, but if I’m not, I won’t lose momentum.
Making lists, modifying them over time, and finding what works is helping me know myself. I’m not great at it, but I’m getting better. Even when I fail miserably, I still get more done than I otherwise would have. Failure is a part of the process, and shouldn’t be discouraging. We are still moving forward.
Kleon, Austin. Keep Going : 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad. New York, Workman Publishing, 2019, p. 20.