Organization and Anxiety: To-Do Lists

February 13, 2016

I know it’s not this way for everyone but the main cause of my anxiety, and then summarily my depression, is a lack of control. I feel out of control all the time. I have no control over my brain chemistry and no matter how many words of affirmation I tell myself about how “you are not the chemical processes in your brain.” It makes you feel out of control and it wears you down. So I combat this with planning the crap out of every other aspect of my life. I can’t control my brain (remember Future and Past Meagan from the first post?) so I control what I have to do.

This is where the oh so popular and ever so functional To-Do lists come into play. However to-do lists very quickly become monuments to all you are not capable of. They quickly point out all the ways you are not able to function ‘normally’ and often times become super overwhelming. I’ve done this to myself more times than I could ever count and I’ve slowly but surely realized that while writing everything down does allow you to focus,  you’ve got to do it in the right way.

The first thing I do is make a huge list of to-do’s. Obviously. But then on top of that I take it a step further and break up my priorities. What are things that actually are time sensitive? What are things I can put on a later date? Could I possibly put those things into a bucket of “I’ve got some free time so let’s get some shit done” to-dos?

The answer usually is yes to all of those things. Every day I have 9 things or less on my to-do list except rather than putting them just all down on one big list I’ve broken them into top 3s.

Three things to do for me, three to do for work, three to do for the house. This balance is so desperately important to me because it makes me separate these parts of my life and it also forces me to acknowledge what I’m ignoring, what requires my attention, and if I’m just all thrown out of whack. I know a lot of people only have a Top Three for every day, three non-negotiable tasks but as much as I think it’s a great idea, that top three always gets filled up with things that aren’t about me. I also like this system better because if I don’t have things to do for Home or Work that day that are actually “To-Do List Worthy” then they don’t have to go on the list. I also can always do more than what has been put on my list and then I feel REALLY accomplished.

The other thing that I like is that I really actually force myself to recognize what three things I’m doing for me today. Even if those things are trivial matters like “Take a long hot shower” or “read for 30 minutes” I can at least visually see that I consciously took time out of my day to take care of myself, not to mention the fact that the making of these lists is in itself a form of self-care.

Tools I use for To-Do Lists: Yes there are enough to merit this section.

  1. My ThriveBook. I built the Daily Top Three into this planner, that and the reflections section (which I’ll talk about later) actually are one of the reasons I felt the need to make the thing in the first place.
  2. Desk Pad: I bought a $3 desk pad in the Target Dollar Spot section at the beginning of this year to replace my old desk pad (also from Target) that had run out. It’s a super simple large list. It has two columns: To Do Today and a To Do Later list. I don’t use a new sheet every day so it’s a running list of things that get added and crossed off all week. It usually takes me a week to fill up the To-Do Today section and I just jot down things that pop into my brain while I’m at my desk or while I’m teaching. It’s super easy to lose track when you’ve got a million emails a day coming at you and you have almost ZERO time to sit down by yourself and do the administrative tasks. Keeping this list helps me make sure I’m using my Lunch and Conference periods wisely.
  3. Wunderlist: I don’t use this as effectively as I could but it’s a great way to add things when I’m on the go or at meetings. If I’m out and about and don’t have my planner with me I’ll add something to my Wunderlist (or set a google calendar reminder!) and then once I get back to my ThriveBook I’ll put it in there.
  4. STICKY NOTES. The important thing about putting it on a sticky note is that it all needs to be put in the planner. Temporary solutions are great, but they are temporary.

That final addition brings me to my final point: You can write things down to do all day long, BUT if you don’t have an anchor, like a phone calendar or a physical planner you are so screwed. The most important thing about a to-do list is that you look at your life and decide when you have time to actually do those things. That is how you avoid letting your to do list become a monument to your failures. Put that list to work! Divide and conquer. I can’t do everything today, I CAN do three things in each area of my life each day and if I’m feeling spunky, if I’m feeling up to it, or let’s be honest if I’m feeling manic, then I can add more!  Honest side note: So my depression is actually manic depression. Thankfully I have high manic episodes WAY more frequently than low manic episodes (If all of this is greek to you I apologize) which means you can bet your ass I have an entirely separate list of things that I can get done when I’m on a high manic episode. Hang art? Organize the pantry? Clean and organize the tupperware cabinets and silverware drawers? Clean the baseboards? DOING THEM. Mando gets really uncomfortable sometimes because I make jokes about this to do list ex: “How often do we clean baseboards? Is that something we do like quarterly?” Me: “Um idk I usually just do that when I’m manic.” *awkward silence as he tries to decide on a reaction before he settles on “oh. okay.”*

Don’t think that a to-do list is magic. The most important part is taking that list and putting those items in an order that works for you. Make it work for you. If you can’t handle being expected to do 9 things a day then don’t! Do three! But do try to make sure you’re balanced. Try to make sure you’re planning ahead, try to make sure that you as a person don’t get lost in the shuffle.

So that’s to-do lists! The small but powerful thing that helps me not collapse every second of my day. If I have control over the minutia I can have control over my reactions and how my life continues even when I’m not feeling so great.

Let me know if there is anything you guys would like to see me discuss in this series! I’d love ideas!

What’s your opinion on to-do lists? Do they work for you?



  1. Reply

    Kay Nyman - My Open Sketchbook

    Top Three is the best! I use it daily for the same reasons. I am notorious for making huge uncompletable to-do lists and then feeling like crap when I only get a few things done. Prioritizing your lists is a must!

    1. Reply

      Meagan Crowe

      It took me so long to figure this out too! Like it seems so obvious but yet it wasn’t for me!

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