How to Manage Your To-Do List When It's Always Changing

two hands write on a running list notepad

Does this sound familiar? You spend Sunday night carefully making your to-do list only to have your plans go out the window come Monday morning.

Whether it’s your computer crashing or a delayed meeting or a last minute work emergency, it’s impossible to stick to your to-do list when life throws curveballs your way. 

While you can’t always predict the changes that arise throughout the week, you can implement strategies to help you cope better and stay on track

From changing the way you think about to-do lists to improving the way you schedule your days, you’ll be able to get ahead of all the changes and manage your work. 

Choose 3 must-dos 

One thing that has helped me create a more durable to-do list is to be really picky about what I choose to put on it.

In other words, I don’t make a to-do list with everything under the sun, because this will only make me feel more stressed and resentful when I inevitably don’t get around to completing them all.

Instead, I try to focus on doing three things I *must* do that day. These must-dos are deadlines, chores, errands, or projects that will either a) give me a huge sense of satisfaction when I accomplish them or b) give me a huge sense of relief when I get it done. 

Examples of must-dos include:

  • Work on my dream goal for 20 minutes 
  • Drop off packages at the post office
  • Work out for 30 minutes 

Your daily must-dos can be a mix of work assignments, chores, fitness activities, or work related to your dream goal. It’s nice to have a mix of must-dos from different aspects of your life so that your day feels more well-rounded. 

By aiming for three must-dos, your schedule will have enough room to accommodate last minute surprises. It will also narrow your focus and ensure that you get things done.  

So think of those errands, projects, or responsibilities that are sitting on your plate. Which of those tasks would make you feel really good about yourself if you worked on them today? And which of those tasks have been nagging at you and would be a huge relief if you finished them?

Of course, life is busy and you probably have a million things to add to your list. But the idea is to get through those three must-dos first. If you end up having time leftover, you can then add more items to your to-do list and tackle them afterwards. 

Follow the one minute rule 

It’s easy to get stuck on the idea that we need a huge chunk of time to get through all the things on our to-do list. But sometimes all you really need is one minute to get your life in order. 

The one minute rule, made popular by writer Gretchen Rubin, is a productivity hack in which you do any task that takes one minute or less to finish. Examples: Responding to a text message. Cleaning your bathroom mirror. Recycling your junk mail. Throwing out the trash. Deleting emails from your inbox. RSVP-ing to an event. Paying your credit card bill.

The one minute rule is great for those days when you’re struggling with procrastination or falling behind schedule. You can quickly knock off a bunch of items from your to-do list, especially ones that you’ve been avoiding for some time. With the one minute rule, there’s no hemming or hawing. If it takes one minute or less to do, you must do it straight away. 

Go through your to-do list. Which items can be done in a minute or less? When you’re short on time, work on those items immediately. 

By following the one minute rule on a regular basis, you’ll notice that your home and office environment will be that much tidier, and your mind will feel that much clearer. When tasks add up, it inevitably weighs us down and gives us a sense of existential dread. The one minute rule gives you a huge sense of accomplishment while also ensuring that you’re making progress in various areas of your life.

Identify the pattern of your days

So you made a to-do list but you have no idea how your week is going to unfold. Between fluctuating deadlines at work or family members who need your attention, there’s no way to know if you’ll have enough time to manage it all.

But you might have a better sense of your schedule than you think.

There are days and weeks in our schedule that have a familiar pattern to them. For instance, your morning meetings on Mondays or the art classes on Tuesdays or the workouts on Fridays. 

Or those weeks in the month when work is super busy or when life is quieter than usual. 

It helps to identify the pattern of your days and weeks so that you can be better at knowing when to schedule your activities around them.

So if you know that you have a team meeting every morning, don’t overwhelm your to-do list by slotting in important tasks right before your meeting. Or if you know that family members are coming to visit at the end of the month, then make sure you work on your priorities before they arrive. 

Take out your planner and review the past few months as well as the upcoming ones. Your past schedule will help you identify patterns and improve your scheduling for future events.

Additionally, take a look at your upcoming months and see which days and weeks will be busy or quiet so you can have a better idea of what’s going to come your way.

By identifying the patterns of your days you will be able to forecast your schedule much more effectively and manage your to-do list with ease. 

Written by JiJi Lee
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