Mini-Post (May 2021) - Creating a To-Do List That Actually Works
To-Do lists are old as heck, but there's an art to making effective ones.
The Freelance Games Journo Tips newsletter’s Mini-Posts are free posts released the first Friday of the month. This is only a sampling of what the newsletter has to offer! Make sure to subscribe to also get access to our weekly tip posts and the entire archive.
We finished up our productivity newsletter block in April—the first of many, I assume, as working on productivity and healthy work habits is always important for a freelancer. However, there’s one thing we haven’t quite talked about yet, and that’s how to make a good to-do list.
You probably think that’s silly and that to-do lists are so easy to do that you can’t really muck them up. But think of it this way: Do you make a bunch of to-do lists, then never do them? Maybe you don’t make them anymore because they didn’t work for you? That’s because there’s more to making these lists than you think, and by tackling a to-do list the right way, they can actually work and help you organize your workflow.
That said, before we get started, to-do lists can definitely make some people feel anxious, and that’s valid as well! If you feel this way, please don’t try to force a method that won’t help you!
So, the first, and the maybe most important, thing you need to do is figure out where to put it. While I like physically writing my to-do lists down, they get messy really quickly, and rewriting them all the time stresses me out. If I put it in my journal, it’s out of sight, out of mind the second I turn the page, which is also not helpful.
Since we’re all doing our work online, I recommend using an app instead. There are all sorts of apps that can do it for you, so find the one you like best! I think the one called Todoist will work for most people, though, and it can connect with other apps on top of it. This allows you to quickly and easily make your list and organize and add on without any fuss.
An additional tip about Todoist: They have a gamified achievement system that rewards you for tasks done daily and weekly. It’s probably best to turn those off—it encourages more toxic work practices!
With that out of the way, the key to a good to-do list is structure. If you just put down the broad tasks you need to do—’do your taxes’, ‘register for financial aid’, etc—the likelihood is that list is going to get thrown in the trash. You know that you have important things to do, and checking off an item on the list generally feels good… but if it’s a long and daunting task, you might get discouraged if you can’t check it off fast.
So, what to do? Break it up into smaller tasks! Not only does that let you tick off more boxes, but it makes the task much more manageable in the first place. If you’re someone like me that procrastinates everything, this… well, it won’t cure procrastination, but you will probably at least tick a few of those boxes before the last minute!
Let’s take the ‘do your taxes’ example from earlier. If you’re in the US and a freelancer, odds are you know how awful and daunting it is to get your taxes done. So breaking up a difficult, long task down can help a lot! Here is how I broke it down in Todoist:
Now one task is suddenly five… which may seem worse because it’s more, but the five tasks are all much more surmountable than before, and they’ll be much quicker to tick off than just ‘do taxes’.
This method also helps you keep track of how much you’ve actually done too. Staring at ‘do taxes’ might seem like a lot and can mentally block you, but when you realize the only step left is to send your documents off, suddenly it’s a lot easier to finish it off and get it out of the way. With Todoist, when items are checked off, they’re automatically archived, so it just feels good.
If you’re struggling with staying on task, or forgetting what all you have to do, give making a structured to-do list a try, and see if it helps!
Hey there! Monthly mini-posts are free, but it’s only $1 a month to sign up for the full Freelance Games Journo Tips newsletter. A subscription includes weekly tips newsletters and full access to our archives! Sign up below: