Repost: Making a List and Checking it Twice: Doing To-Do Lists Well

Dec 8, 2021 | Dr. Melanie Chandler, HABIT FL Director | @drmelaniechandler | Comments (2)

Christmas To Do

Tis the season and a good time to re-circulate this piece originally posted in 2018....


Many of us naturally get the idea of keeping a "To Do" list or task list of things we need to get done.  This may have been recommended to you, or perhaps you started doing it more on your own after the diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment.  But, how do you make a meaningful To Do list?

If you are like me, your first approach to a To Do list may have been to write one long, master list of every possible thing that you need or want to do.  The result:  a long, overwhelming list that you don't accomplish.  In our experience, you To Do list can be improved by trying the following:

  1. Break down large tasks into steps.  Don't just write "Get ready for Christmas" on your list; break down all of the steps you need to get there. And, even those steps may need to be broken down further.  A great example is "Buy presents."  Break this one down into lists of who and what.  Going out of town?  Break it down into all the steps needed for traveling, (packing, booking tickets, boarding pets, etc.)
  2. Assign tasks to the day you plan to do them.  This tip is likely the largest deviation from what you are used to in that classic, comprehensive master list.  I am recommending that you do not see all of the items that you could possibly accomplish on that master To Do list each day.  Doing so only desensitizes you to all the items on the list (meaning they start to lose their importance when you keep putting them off each day).  It also can leave you feeling down or frustrated with yourself for not achieving enough, or simply overwhelmed with all there is to do.  Instead, once you break down your tasks into steps, assign them to a day you realistically can do that particular step or task. Put it on your calendar.  Better yet, if you are using a planner, like the one in HABIT, put it in the To Do section for that day. You are much more likely to accomplish all that is on your list if there are only a few things for the day.
  3. Commit to try to do those things that day.  This way, you can keep working towards your goals a day at a time, step by step, so that tasks get done.  Prioritize items by putting a star or asterisk by them, and make sure to try to get those items for sure done that day.
  4. Check it Off!  Put a check next to items that you get done.  This gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you remember what you got done if you are experiencing memory loss.  Now you have a permanent record of the accomplishment (you can even check it twice 🙂 Thus, don't just scribble it out when you are done; we want to see that you got it done!
  5. Carry things forward you don't get done.  Even after breaking down tasks and assigning only a few to a day, any of us can still not get everything done we wanted to.  If that happens, just make sure that you carry it forward in your calendar so that you don't lose track or forget that step!  I like to put an arrow instead of the check mark when this happens.  And, don't just arrow it forward, make sure you pick a new day you will get it done and write it on that date.




This blog was about good "form" in keeping an effective To Do list.  Please let us know if you have any other tips.  But, particularly, what helps you stay motivated to get things done?  I didn't talk about that important piece, and I'd like to hear your thoughts!


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There's an App for that! As a member of the TBI community I found it a must to document appointments that previous to my injury I was just able to remember. I did and still do use my Outlook Calendar, however I needed more. About that time Microsoft came out with an aptly named app called TO DO. It is on my computer, tablet and phone. It synchs between devices, so it is always with me. I keep a grocery list, long term projects, things I lend to others, so I remember who to get them back from. I even have a list of what leftovers my wife tells me I need to eat.
My OT urged me to use it to the full and it has saved me many times.


Lists are such a good idea. Breaking down the big & multipart tasks into smaller ones is even better. I get bogged down quickly but if I can see my “to do” list in a manageable form, I will get things done. And you get to see progress more quickly.

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