Maintaining your to-do lists

It’s a Monday morning and you have a new resolution: Using a to-do app. You download the best-rated app currently, create projects for each area of your life, add your lists of tasks, reminders, and everything… You are heavily invested and committed to making it work this time! It’s a resolution after all, right? But a few days after that, chances are you had already forgotten about your lists.

Sounds familiar? Well, I’ve been there too, and I’ve done this before. Multiple times actually.

This might sound simple in theory, but it’s hard in practice: Anything we introduce in our life comes with a maintenance cost. And our to-do lists are no different, they need maintenance too.

But before talking about to-do lists, it’s worth explaining why we use to-do lists in the first place. Personally, I love how David Allen, the creator of the GTD (Get Things Done) method presents it: your brain isn’t a hard drive.

Our brains aren’t designed to remember things, they’re here to think about solutions to problems. So, if you use your brain as a hard drive:

  1. Your brain spends a lot of energy trying to do something it wasn’t designed for.
  2. Sooner or later, your brain will forget about your to-do list.

This is why we use to-do lists and productivity apps. They help us remember things when our brains fail us. But our brains have something built into them that to-do lists don’t: forgetting things.

If you write something on your to-do list, it will stay there until you remove it. That’s why adding things to your to-do list is one thing, keeping it clean and useful is another. In other words, adding tasks is half the job, cleaning it is the other.

So, how can we maintain our to-do list, in order to keep it up-to-date and useful? The answer can be summed up in one sentence: you need to keep an eye on it.

If it’s a physical list, on paper, it needs to be in a place where you can keep an eye on it. On the top of your desk, or as a post-it, or something equivalent.

If it’s an app, you need to cultivate a habit of checking it often. Luckily, all to-do apps have built-in daily reminders you can schedule to get a small nudge every now and then. All it takes is a few days for it to become a habit.

If you’re using an app, I can share with you my way of keeping my to-do list up-to-date:

  1. The first step is checking the app first thing in the morning or when I’m ready to take on the day. This helps me pick up my priorities for the day.
  2. Second, I check my to-do list weekly to clean it. Sometimes, we add a few things to the list, and after a few days, they may become obsolete. So, it’s crucial to clean your list once in a while.

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