A hand with a pen checking off a to do list in a notebook

How to Get Your To-Do List Back on Track in 3 Steps

As tedious as it sounds, the best way to organize a cupboard, drawer, or closet is to take everything out and put it back in again.

Not only are you putting things back in a tidy manner, but it gives you the chance to reassess the importance of the items inside. What’s worth keeping? What should you toss? Is there a better place for it?

This method of decluttering helps ensure you find the most important items you need them.

But what about your to-do lists?

How do we account for the many things in our minds? Our to-dos aren’t tangible like items in a linen closet or a desk.

It’s like that cluttered drawer in your kitchen—the one that’s tough to open—tasks tend to get pushed to the back. Subsequent to them surfacing again comes the dreaded ah, shit moment.

Much like that catch-all drawer, you can take inventory of your to-do list and decide what stays and what goes. Here’s how.

1. Write Down All of Your To-Dos

To start, anything you need to do that’s not a daily habit, like checking your emails, brushing your teeth, or doing the dishes — write it down all in one place.

Ensure items on your list hold some weight and aren’t something you do naturally, like cleaning the dishes or responding to an email. For example, you might write that you need to organize the hall closet, but not list wipe the kitchen counters because you do that automatically, plus doing so takes about ten seconds.

Include tasks that are top of mind, events, and occasions. Try your best to think of anything you may be forgetting and everything you’ve been meaning to do.

You’re creating an exhaustive list at this point, so you need not worry about prioritizing, assigning, breaking down, or sorting your items.

This may resemble a warehouse inventory for some, but don't get overwhelmed as you’re soon going to take action.

2. Sort Your To-Dos

Now that you’ve written them all out, avoid tackling the items at random in an effort to get them done as soon as possible. It can be tempting to pick one and go, especially if you’re impulsive, but sorting them will help you develop a more effective plan.

Create four categories to write out your tasks: backlog, project or event-specific, revisit, and recommendations. Grab your day planner as well.

Backlog: This is where all your general items will go. Basically, a list of tasks you intend to do at some point, but not right now. They’ll live here in the meantime, so you don't forget them, but also so they’re not nagging you.

Project or event-specific: Place items with the same goal together and title them accordingly. For example, a lofty list of creative projects you want separate from your need-to-dos or tasks related to an event you're planning.

Revisit: This list gives all your ideas a place to go. Think items that aren't the highest priority, but you want to do them at some point. It’s helpful to park these ideas here to prevent them from becoming a distraction or forgotten.

Recommendations: Another non-priority list. Stash items others want you to look into or check out here. Sometimes they’re worth it and sometimes not so much, but once you list them, they’re less likely to be distracting. When trying to recall that website your colleague told you about, it's on the list.

Appointments, reminders, events, and due dates: put these right into your day planner under the correct date to avoid forgetting them.

Go through your task inventory and move items into their respective category. Scratch out any tasks you don’t need or want to do—like those items in the junk drawer that you really never use.

Keep in mind these new lists are living documents for you to reference. Each time something new comes up, add it to the right one.

3. Plan Your To-Dos

Pull items from your lists and add them to your day planner. You can do this however you’d like. The Ivy Lee method takes a lot of stress out of writing a to-do list.

To summarize what that is, you write six tasks in order of priority and work your way through the list from top to bottom. By doing this the evening before, you know exactly where to start. Any incomplete tasks move to the next day.

You might also find it helpful to keep a rough list of about seven weekly items — you know the ones you want to get done, but you’re not sure when yet.

Tackle Your To-do List

After taking inventory of your to-do list, it will be one that’s filled with only the most important and meaningful tasks and a plan for tackling them. Like your freshly organized closet, you’ll be able to stay on top of what’s in there—and if it gets messy, you can do it all again.

Keep in mind, that tasks don’t always need to be productive to make it on your list.


A phone and notebook on a desktop

Dump Your Unlimited To-Do List with the Ivy Lee Method

Let me paint you a picture—figuratively of course. You spend the day busting your ass only to feel like you didn’t move the needle.

You still have a gargantuan to-do list that you can’t tackle because, hey, you have to eat and sleep sometime. So, you feel somewhat grumpy and restless as you call it quits for the day.

Well, you probably did plenty—you just don’t know it.

Dump Your Unlimited To-Do List

No matter what, you won't reach your goals if you keep moving the posts—especially if you’re not setting them in your sights in the first place.

By not defining a clear goal for the day, you’re setting yourself up for that dreaded feeling of oh, shit, in the evening.

Of course, it isn’t realistic to expect we’ll meet our broader goals like getting a promotion, learning an instrument, or training to be the top cat herder in a day. However, using a daily to-do list, we create a mini-scope of work for ourselves to work towards our larger targets.

Along the way, getting things done and feeling good about it will keep us motivated, but not if we don’t keep track of our progress. Keeping tabs on what we’ve done also comes with another benefit — knowing when it's time to take a break.

Write Out a Set Amount of Tasks Per Day

No goal is complete without a unit of measurement you can use to track it.

In 1918 a productivity consultant named Ivy Lee told a team of business executives at Bethlehem Steel Corporation to write out six tasks each evening. They were to write them out in order of importance, and the next day they were to focus on getting them done one at a time.

Lee didn’t charge the company's president, Charles M. Schwab, for his consultation, but after three months, Schwab was so impressed with this idea he sent him a cheque for $25,000, which is worth far more these days.

This method is helpful in picking the most meaningful tasks and prioritizing them. You know exactly where to start and what to do next instead of feeling lost or overwhelmed in a sea of to-dos. However, since you’re not listing ten or eighteen tasks, you want to make sure the six will hold an impact.

You want to avoid listing things that take minimal time and items that may qualify as daily habits like checking your emails and walking the dog—in that case, you may want a habit tracker.

Think of tasks like preparing your expense report, organizing the filing cabinet, or going shopping. If it's humongous, break it into pieces and if you can't get everything done that day, don’t worry. Carry it forward the next day.

Don’t Keep Adding to Your List

Adding tasks to your to-do list once it’s complete is kind of like a Peanuts comic strip. You’re Charlie Brown, and your personal time is the football. At the same time, you’re Lucy and you’re yoinking that ball—or that chance to eat a proper meal, relax, or enjoy a hobby—away from yourself.

Once your list is complete, catch up with your friends, catch up on yourself, and if you need to be present at work until a specific time, catch up on emails or small tasks.

If you find tasks on your list keep carrying over to the next day, do those to get them off your list. It could also be the case that the item isn’t that meaningful, and you can scratch it off in a let's not and say we did manner.

Celebrate Your Wins

Why not try the Ivy Lee Method to see if it improves your to-do list? It works whether you're a pen and paper person or you prefer a to-do list app.

I even wrote this article at MUO on how to use the Ivy Lee Method in Notion and ClickUp.

No matter how you plan your to-do list, stop moving your goal posts and give yourself a break.


Photo of a Mac laptop keyboard

Increase Your Productivity with This Roundup of Notion Tutorials

If you’ve yet to use Notion, this project management and note-taking tool will take your to-do lists and planning to the next level. You can create anything from a simple checklist to an entire website using nothing but text and blocks.

I even drafted this blog post in Notion before it made its way to WordPress.

For those who are just getting started, Notion offers many templates, and its website is a vast resource library, but sometimes it helps to have an extra bit of detail or inspiration.

That’s why I’ve covered the topic so much over at MUO. It truly is a fantastic tool, it’s free for personal use, and once you get the hang of it, it’s actually kind of fun.

Below you’ll find some of those tutorials. Some take the basics more in-depth to help you over hang-ups—like the whole page within a page within a page thing. Others allow you to explore the possibilities of what you can do with this software because soon you’ll want to use it for everything.

Keep in mind that these links will take you off-site to MUO.

Basics:

A Beginner’s Guide to Notion Terminology

How to Keep Your Notes Organized and Accessible in Notion

The Top 7 Features to Use in Notion

How to Set Reminders in Notion

How to Get Your To-Do list Back on track with Notion

How to Switch a Database from Full Page to Inline in Notion

3 Lists You Can Keep in Notion to Help Boost Productivity

How to Archive Items in Notion

Inspiration:

7 Productive Ways to Use Notion

How to Create a Simple Budget Tracker in Notion

How to Use Notion to Track Your Fitness Goals

How to Keep Track of your Tasks Using a Backlog in Notion

How to Create a Wiki in Notion

How to Build a Simple CRM in Notion

How to Create Public Pages in Notion

How to Outline a Workflow in Notion

How to Use the Content Calendar Template in Notion

How to Set and Track Your Goals Using Notion

Comparisons:

Notion Free vs. Paid: Which Plan is Right for You?

ClickUp vs. Notion: Which is Better for Project Collaboration?

 

Looking for more tech tutorials? Check out MUO. Here, my fellow writers cover various topics, from computers and mobile devices to gaming and gadgets.


Groceries in green bags

7 Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Save Money on Groceries

Annually, Canadians toss out 2.94 metic tonnes of food. It goes to the landfill, where organic matter breaks down to become methane, a gas that’s far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Not to mention all the packaging we toss out with it.

While we can stand behind the “just one person” rhetoric and take no action to make change, keep in mind, these issues come to be because of the collective action of individuals. On average one Canadian household wastes 79 kilograms of food per year and whether that’s you or me, it doesn’t matter.

The point is, if as individuals we can collectively produce that much food waste, we can also change our habits as individuals to collectively get that number down—whether see others doing it, or not.

In this article, I’ll share some tips on how you can reduce food waste and save some money in your grocery budget.

1. Make a Weekly Menu Plan

While it may sound monotonous, creating a menu plan doesn’t mean you’ll fall into the rhythm of Taco Tuesday and Pasta Thursdays—unless you want to of course. With a menu plan, you’re not assigning meals to a specific day. You’re essentially creating a list of meals you’d like to eat in a week and picking what to cook the day of.

It’s organized, yet random, so you still have spontaneity, but you’re not just cooking whatever willy nilly. You can also decide what to cook based on how you’re feeling instead of going by what day of the week it is, or a meal choice you decided on when you may have been feeling more ambitious.

To create your plan, look at the ingredients already in your kitchen, what’s in the flyer, and what’s in your budget to make a list of seven dinners. If you find you get stuck on this, it's helpful to keep a master list of your household favourites and go-to meals for inspiration.

2. Make a Grocery List

Hand-written grocery list

I know this may seem obvious to some, but wandering up and down the aisles of the grocery store looking for inspiration isn’t a good tactic. In fact, you’re likely to end up over buying what you don’t need and leaving without things you do. The whole experience is a recipe for having to go right back.

To make the most of your trip, you’ll want to walk in with a thorough list. This means, before you go, keep your list handy throughout the week so you can jot items down as you think of them and as you run out of household staples. You’ll also want to write anything down that you need to make the meals on your menu plan.

It doesn’t matter if you write it on a whiteboard in your kitchen, a piece of scrap paper, or into an app on your phone, keeping it all one place is ideal so you can avoid missing anything.

Once you go on your shopping trip, do your best to stick with it, and avoid needless volume purchasing sales—like buy two and get one free—unless you have a plan.

Also, if you haven’t already, try Bring!, it’s amazing, it’s free, and you can share a list with others in your household. All you need to do is click icons to add food to your list. I’m not affiliated, I just like it and you might too.

3. Prioritize Fresh Ingredients

Tomatoes on a countertopOkay, so I know I said there’s really no specific order in which you need to go through your menu plan. However, prioritizing fresh items like meat and vegetables that spoil quickly is ideal. Pay close attention to best before dates when shopping and deciding what to eat.

4. Freeze Your Ingredients While Fresh

If your menu plan requires a lot of fresh ingredients, or you know you want to save a meal for later in the week, freeze what you can. This is also helpful if you find an excellent sale or bulk deal on meat or another freezable item. Just portion it out and use it when you need it.

If you don’t already, you may want to consider buying frozen ingredients as well.

5. Be Mindful of Your Servings

From a cooking standpoint, consider the size of the helpings you and your household typically eat and do your best to cook exactly that—if you don’t like leftovers. A lot of recipes make more servings than there are people in the average Canadian family, so it's helpful to do the math and write measurements out ahead of time when dividing ingredients.

6. Get Creative with Leftovers

Soup with chunky ingredientsYou may have griped when your grandparents served chicken one night and pot pie the next, but they were onto something. When planning your menu, you may want to account for meals you can do this with. For example, at my house we barbecue chicken breast one evening and make chicken fried rice or chicken fajitas the next.

While sometimes it’s nice to enjoy leftovers as they are, getting creative with them will help prevent you from getting bored and cooking something else or ordering takeout.

7. Freeze Your Leftovers

It's surprising what you can put in the freezer. If you have some leftover ingredients or servings and you know you won’t eat them right away, put them in the freezer.

You’ll likely find the answer to what you can freeze and how long it will keep by popping the question into a search engine if you’re uncertain.

Getting Started

With a little planning, you can work to reduce food waste which is not only helpful for the environment, but also your budget—and you’ll save time as well. While some tips may sound intimidating, changing your habits around mealtime will get easier as you go.

If you’re looking to make more efficient meals, why not get started with creating a meal plan? Take a look at the foods you have in your kitchen to see what inspires you, or browse your local flyer.