October 26, 2015

STUDY BREAK | Seven Tips for Making a Great To-Do List

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By JOYCE LEE

If I could share one piece of advice when it comes to being productive, it would be to make a to-do list. Having a to-do list isn’t revolutionary by any means. But for me, it’s an absolute necessity. Like any typical college student, more often than not I feel consumed by the amount of work I have to get done, whether it be related to school, social events or laundry, which always takes much longer than I want it to. If I have a million and one tasks to do at any given time, to say it’s overwhelming to think about all at once is an understatement. But when you have a to-do list that is properly organized (by priority, time, ease, etc.), it makes all the difference in the world and removes so much anxiety. And let’s be honest, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with crossing off items on a to-do list.

What’s so great about a (well done) to-do list? It doesn’t just help you to be more productive, it FREES you from a lot of stress.

Here are some life-changing tips I think about when making a to-do list.

1. PICK YOUR TOP THREE TO FIVE THINGS TO ACCOMPLISH EVERYDAY.

This is very important! It goes back to what I was saying about having your list help lessen stress. If you only choose a number of things that you have to accomplish on any given day, it makes them much less overwhelming, more easy to focus on and thus easier to complete. For me, my top three to five things are typically school-related. However, I tend to work my schedule around marching band, so practice is often thrown into the mix.

2. DO THESE THREE TO FIVE THINGS FIRST.

You can have other tasks on your to-do list for any given day, but they should be smaller, easier tasks. For example, my three to five top tasks are usually school projects and study sessions, and then my remaining ones are things like laundry, errands, lunch with friends, etc. But once the “hard” stuff is out of the way, it’s all downhill from there.

3. MAKE EACH DAY A DIFFERENT DAY.

The idea is to divide days up into certain task categories. Especially during prelim season, I need to break up my week into exactly what days I plan to study what subjects. For example, I could study everything I need to study for Subject A on Monday and Wednesday, Subject B on Tuesday and Thursday and then do laundry on Friday (as an aside, I’ve found that way fewer people are in the laundry rooms on a Friday night as opposed to a Sunday night). This way, I can give myself a lot of time during the day to do everything I need to do and I don’t have to focus on everything all at once. By the end of the week, I get a lot more studying done than I thought I would. This is very dependent on what study methods work for you, of course.

4. WRITE YOUR TO-DO LIST IN THE NOTES ON YOUR PHONE.

Even with all the fancy apps and journals for to-do lists, I’m personally a fan of keeping it simple by using the built-in Notes app on my iPhone. Not only do I have my notes everywhere I go, but this makes it easier to add to and edit my list often. It’s simple, straightforward and efficient.

5. TAKE NOTE OF YOUR SMALLEST TASKS.

I add every single little thing I could possibly think of to my to-do lists. I’ve found that this gets to the root of all my stress. Why? Because the more tasks you put on that list, the less they’re swirling around in your head taking up your precious time and thoughts. Even if it’s something you have to do in a few days or a few months, once it’s on the list, you don’t have to think about it again until it’s time to actually do it.

6. NO LIST IS A BAD LIST.

This is related to the tip above, but I make a list for everything. They are often as unrelated as what I need to buy at Target, clubs I want to join, clothes I want to buy, things I want to do next semester and questions I want to ask a friend. Anything and everything. Write. It. Down. I often miss home a lot so I have an entire list dedicated to “social” events that break up the often daunting amount of months until I get to go home and see my friends and family. Some events on this list at the moment include Wegman’s runs, Syracuse day trips and Thanksgiving in NYC.

7. EDIT YOUR LIST OFTEN.

This is why I find it so easy to keep my to-do list in my digital notes. Depending on how my day is going, especially on a particularly busy one with many twists and turns, I edit my tasks often. Sometimes I accomplish more in a day than I expected to. Or sometimes I run out of time and push my tasks to the following day. Instead of giving up on the list all together, just keep editing it. Using this tip, I usually find that there are more than enough hours in a day/week to get everything done.

Joyce Lee is a freshman in the ILR School. Born and raised in Hawaii, she is a member of the Big Red Marching Band, a dog enthusiast and a firm believer in Chandler and Monica. Study Break appears on alternate Mondays this semester. She can be reached at jhl259@cornell.edu.

2 thoughts on “STUDY BREAK | Seven Tips for Making a Great To-Do List

  1. Great tips. Personally I find making my todo list the night before and scheduling the tasks I least want to do second (do something easy first!) to work for me. I also keep all my revision notes in an app which reminds me when each section is due a review – that way I can keep revising all my work efficiently, a bit everyday.

    • “scheduling the tasks I least want to do second (do something easy first!)” – that’s something I hadn’t though of doing before, great advice!

      Also – what app are you using?

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