Overwhelmed? Make adulting manageable with a to-do system


When it comes to organization, we’ve all been told, “make a to-do list,” and you probably follow that advice to some extent. But when life gets more complicated (the struggle of “adulting”), this simple advice falls short, raising questions like:

  1. How do you easily keep track of repeated tasks, and avoid forgetting things that you’ll have to do in the future, but can’t do now?
  2. How can you break down daunting tasks (like “do your taxes”) into manageable chunks without cluttering your to-do list?
  3. How can you make sure to consistently use your to-do list, so that it stays up-to-date and useful?

To answer these questions, I’ll first suggest a change of nomenclature: stop striving for a to-do list, and instead strive for a to-do system. The former is a basically just a piece of paper, the latter is a set of tools and behaviors that keep you organized and productive. Now, to answer these questions in a systemic way:

  1. Use a to-do app that supports (recurring) dates! Then you can input your routine tasks once, and put off other tasks for the future. When using the app, you’ll only see tasks that you’ve assigned yourself to do now. My app of choice is Todoist.
  2. When necessary, use an outlining app to break down your Todoist tasks and store other useful information relating to them. These apps are also nice for storing other miscellaneous things you want to remember, like albums you want to listen to or clothes you want to buy. I use Dynalist.
  3. Whenever something comes up that you want to remember (like a movie someone told you to watch, a task someone assigned you, or a brilliant idea you just had), don’t try to fiddle with your to-do/outlining/calendar app while on the go. Instead, write it into a simple notes app (you’re phone’s built-in notes app should work fine). Then, once a day, look through all the notes you’ve made and put them wherever they need to go in your to-do/outlining/calendar apps. This way, keeping your system organized won’t require constant, annoying interruptions to your everyday life.

The end goal of a to-do system is that instead of keeping everything that you need to do jumbled in your head, organize it nicely on paper (or in your phone). That way, you’ll be less stressed, and have more time to relax and enjoy life.

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