The To-Do List Monster


I know that to-do lists can be super helpful for brains, but more often than not they are a nightmare for me. The list of things I need to do is terrifyingly long, it feels like each thing will take more time than I have time to give to that task, and I can’t prioritize them. It becomes this huge monster list and everything needs to be done now.
It’s gotten so bad that even the thought of writing the list can send me into a tailspin. I tried writing one tonight…there have already been many emotional breakdowns. At one point I couldn’t see what I was writing through the tears. I feel like just looking at my list can make me hyperventilate. But I know if I don’t write things down I will end up forgetting them.

How do you do it? How do you not let it bury you?


I’m a teacher I had to write plans that covered the entire year, it was overwhelming I asked for help for a form so that I could make it bite sized


What form?


Actually the spanish teacher helped me with form for unit plans and yearly plans


To-do lists can be intimidating, that’s for sure. I tried making them more detailed, breaking each task down into manageable steps but that, while making it easier to cross things off which is the secret goal in all to-do lists, also made them even more intimidating. What helped me a bit was breaking them down into several lists. A big one for the major tasks and detailed ones for each task. I only wirte the smaller ones once I’m more or less ready to tackle the task. It’s a good first step.

There’s no limit in either direction: I begin each month mapping out my major tasks for the month, then later I’ll wirte my ususal to-do lists for the day or the week (actually, I write them for the day but they always turn out to be good for a week). Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of making a real big one for all the stuff that’s so overdue that having it on the other lists just feels like background noise and clutters up the rest of the list. In the other direction, you can divide a task into steps and every step into sub-steps and so on.


Have you tried the bullet journal system? I started using it this year and it works for me.

The inventor of the system is an ADHD brain.

Part of it deals with managing to do lists, you end up with an immediate list and long term list, which can help to take the pressure off, and migration of tasks from one to the other, best to watch these videos:


I have one and I have tried. It works for a while and then I wouldn’t keep using it.


If it worked for a while, is it worth trying again?


I’m interested in starting this but I struggle with journals (and paper day planners) as well as lists because I get trapped thinking that the time I spend doing that could be time spent actually doing a task. Or I get super hyper focused on the list process that by the time I come up for air my motivation to actually do something has gone out the window. :frowning:


You have to experiment and see what works for you. I used Wunderlist for a long time but then I stopped using it when I fell behind too much. I use a BuJo but not regularly. I tried index cards they are not very convenient. I have tried other programs that do GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done) methodology but that hasn’t work too well. I am using plain text files and they seem to work better for me (but still not ideal).

But a few things I learned along the way: 1) not to hyperfocus on making the list. Just spend a few minutes at most and then add when you remember. 2) not make long lists. they are get overwhelming! 3) divide them up by context – the likely place or time when you may do a task. Such as @work, @home, @kitchen, @yard, @errands, @computer etc. But not too many. 4) not focus on what didn’t get done 5) check what got done during the last week (or since the last time!). 6) check time sensitive things much more often.


There are a few things together that have helped me, and they all happen before the task goes into whatever planner system I’m using. First, the initial monster list is not my to-do list, it’s just a way of getting things out of my head (I think it’s David Allen who uses the term “brain dump”?) I don’t have to do everything that ends up on the list, and most of it doesn’t have to happen right away. So when you write it out, try to see it as clearing your head, and keep in mind that writing it down is not the same as committing to do it. That comes later.

Second, I assess whether the things on my list are really tasks, or if they’re habits. Forming habits is a different problem, and I set those aside to address elsewhere.

Third, I decide on a prioritizing system. I’ve combined a couple to arrive at my own personal one, which is: (1) physical/emotional health (this includes finances); (2) relationships & commitments; (3) related to my goals (for this one, I have to choose 2 or 3 clear goals I’m working towards right now); (4) Everything else. You can experiment with your own priority list, and tweak it over time, and the more self-reflection you do, the better it will be.

Then, I look at everything that’s priority #4, and asking myself if I really need to do it. A lot of the time, these are things that I want to do, or think it would be nice to have done, but they’re not that important. Get rid of them. Sometimes they’re there because I think they’d be fun-- but then why stress about it? I put those on a “fun menu”, which is totally separate from my to-do list.

From there, I can look at stuff from the other priority levels and ask, “Is this really necessary?” and “Is this really necessary right now?” What is each task costing you in stress, versus the benefit of having it done? Haggling my cable prices down may fit in priority 1, but is the money I save worth the stress of seeing it on my list? I’d call that a “later problem”-- “Later problems” get their own list, which I look at only when I’ve addressed my “Right now problems”.

(I think I got the phrasing “Later problem” and “Right now problem” from a joke a friend made, but it’s SO effective for me. For some reason, saying to myself, “That’s a later problem” is much more stress-relieving than saying “That’s a problem for later”)

So by then, I’m left with a much smaller list, of things that are both important, and need to be addressed now. Those are the only ones that get planned/scheduled/put on my to-do list. I decide when to do those based on deadlines and looking back at my priorities. When I have time for more stuff, I can go back to my “later” list, and use the same priority system to add in a manageable amount of additional tasks.

And voila! A much less intimidating to-do list!


Great system. I might take some of it.