Managing Your To-do List

productivity tips and hacks Jan 21, 2023
Managing an ADHD To-do list

Many people - not just those with ADHD - manage their to-do lists completely wrong.  If your goal is to manage your tasks and consistently get things done, you need to treat your to-do list as if it were your closet, and the tasks as if they are the clothes you keep in your closet..

Now, I know that there are a million ways to store your clothes and manage your wardrobe. Maybe you have several dressers, or perhaps you have multiple closets, or maybe you just pile all your clothes on a chair next to your bed…  But for the sake of this analogy, let’s assume you keep all your clothes in a closet.  There is one place to go when you want to get dressed.  This makes things much easier for your brain because you don’t have to think about it.  You need clothes, you go to your closet.

Your closet is the repository in which all your clothes are kept. This is what your to-do list should be.  It is the ONE place where you keep all of the tasks and projects that you need to do, or want to do.   Having multiple todo lists is a lot like having multiple closets. Generally speaking it makes things confusing and inefficient.  And if you keep all your to-dos on scraps of paper in piles throughout your house, I’m guessing that you also keep your clothes in a pile on a chair in your bedroom.  We’ve got some work to do there….

The bottom line is that in order to efficiently manage your tasks, and to get your brain to trust that you aren’t going to forget something, you need to keep your tasks gathered together in one place.

Now, let’s think about how you interact with your closet.  You want to get dressed, so in a perfect world, you go into your closet, think about the day ahead and select a shirt, a pair of pants, some shoes, underwear appropriate for what is coming up.  If you have an important business meeting you aren’t going to grab the clothes you wear when you go hiking in the mountains.  You match your clothes to the day, grab what you need and off you go. In an even ideal-er world maybe you do this the night before and lay all these clothes out before you go to bed so in the morning you can dress without thinking.

Clothes in your closet are like the tasks on your to-do list.  First, If you are one of those people who pulls about five outfits out of the closet to decide what you are going to wear and perhaps tries them all on, you know how much time this wastes.  And you probably can relate to how confusing it can be.  The same is true with to-do lists and tasks. 

You will be much more productive if you select a small number of tasks from your list each day (I stick with no more than three) and make those your focus for the day. Commit to getting those done before you go back to the list for more.  

Second, your task selection should always be done in the context of what the day ahead looks like. Taking 10 items off your to-do list on a day when you have back-to-back calls, meetings, and appointments is like picking the wrong clothes for the activities you plan on doing. It is just going to leave you frustrated and possibly embarrassed.  A busy day ahead should mean you select fewer tasks as your intention.

And finally, just as with clothes, it can be extremely beneficial to pick those three tasks out the night before, rather than waiting until the morning (or later) to try to decide what you are going to do. There have been many studies showing that setting an intention the night before by selecting tasks for the upcoming day reduces stress, improves sleep, and usually makes you more productive the following day.

One last thing, for most people with ADHD it is a mistake to keep your to-do list open and in front of you throughout the day. If you keep returning to your closet after you have gotten dressed you are much more likely change your minda and pick something else out to wear.   Having a master to-do list out in front of you serves as a distraction and a possible source of overwhelm - let’s face it, we all have to-do lists with a hundred things on it!  Nobody needs constant reminders of that when we are trying to get stuff done.   Focusing on a very limited number of things is a sure fire way to improve focus and be more productive.


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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