The “To Do” List Lurking in Your Mind

It’s nagging, lurking, weighs heavy and sometimes keeps you up at night. It’s the “To Do” list. The key is to transition that burden into a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. When I get something done that I have wanted “to do” for a while, I get a feeling of happiness and I feel lighter. My mind and spirit feels lighter. One less thing “to do” on the extensive list of things my mind keeps track of. I believe this feeling of completion helps in ways we don’t fully realize.

I want to understand more about this feeling we get after we accomplish a task. We are familiar with it, we keep chasing it…but why is it sometimes hard to catch?


To Do List:

A list of everything you want or need to do. From the most important to the least important.


Have you ever walked into the bathroom to brush your teeth or comb your hair and notice the sink is dirty? You grab a sponge and next thing you know you have everything off the counter and are scrubbing the entire sink and bathroom countertop. Then you do the toilet, bathtub, sweep and mop the floor? Originally you went in there for something simple but the gnawing feeling of needing to clean the bathroom suddenly hits you. You can’t help yourself, and you get it done right then and there.

I call this distraction and action “squirreling.” It’s something that is probably subconsciously on your “to do “ list. The mere sight of it is enough to nag you into finally engaging with it.  This leads me to what sparked this topic of discussion to begin with.

My Subconscious Nag

The other day I plugged in my external hard drive to transfer files from my desktop computer over to my hard drive. I have had my computer crash a couple times in the past and lost a lot of important items. After the last crash I purchased an external hard drive to back up important files.

Every time I plug in the drive, I notice how many things have transferred more than once. Some items are within file folders, random pictures and documents duplicated and unorganized. Many file folders are named “Debra’s misc.”  I don’t know why I always make miscellaneous folders, but I had a lot of them. It was quite overwhelming. Every time I saw this mess I would think about how I needed to clean it up and make it easier to find things. I have wanted to do this for a few years but didn’t want to deal with the complexity of the project.

One day the subconscious nagging was too great. I decided to just dig in and do it – I guess I was up for the challenge right then and there. I created master files such as family members, holidays, taxes, etc. on my desktop and then made sub folders and began dropping items in (looking closely at each of them so I wouldn’t delete something that was not a duplicate). After I got it all sorted, I deleted the remaining duplicate files and transferred everything back over to the external hard drive. Now when I open the drive it is simple, clean, and easy to find what I need.

What a Feeling!

After I left my desk, I decided to take a shower and as I was washing my hair, I realized how light and happy I felt. I thought about how I finally got that nagging complex task done. The chaos wouldn’t be there for me to see anymore when I open that drive. It was such a fantastic feeling!  I stepped out of the shower and thought about the lightness in my spirit and realized this feeling was familiar. I get it whenever I feel accomplishment. Whether it is cleaning the bathroom, grocery shopping, doing laundry, paying bills, or wrapping gifts – completing a task, large or small, gives me this same feeling of satisfaction.

Let’s look deeper into this “phenomenon” of “lightening the load” so to speak. I feel that internally it’s got to be good for our mind and overall health.

A List For Success!

When searching Google for “To Do list” I found a multitude of apps and self-help templates for keeping a To Do list. You can get free downloadable templates or subscribe (for a fee) to dozens of apps that help organize tasks. I even saw an audio book someone published on how to get things done efficiently for $13.95. I guess whatever helps, right? If you do better by listening to someone talk about how to create a list, then give it a try! The goal is to become more efficient and organized with your tasks so you actually complete them.

Because of the volume of websites that focus on making lists, this must be the most important area to start. Get the things you want to get done out of your head and on to paper.  Physically checking items off a list is also a beneficial and satisfying feeling as you work through it.

Time to Get Organized!

  • Finances
  • Groceries
  • Work
  • School
  • Automobile
  • Household

Although I keep many items in my head, many of us make lists that cover different areas of life.

The Bills

You need to know when you have money coming in and what needs to be paid each month. You would think this is a no-brainer but for some of us, we may not write things down and end up short somewhere during the month. Living paycheck to paycheck with a few dollars in your account, or having to borrow money to make it to the next payday is a hard way to live.

I do things better now than I did years ago. Years ago, I made a list, but I “played” with my list. I would put off paying the gas bill so I could buy a new outfit for myself. I figured I’d just pay double the following month since I knew I could be 30 days late and the gas wouldn’t be shut off. Not a good plan and a risk with the credit score. Now I use an excel spreadsheet. I have my paydays listed and split my expenses over the month. I see how much I have left after paying all the bills and figure out what food and extras will be. I also try to put a little in savings, so I have a cushion. It takes focus and concentrated effort to stay on track but it’s worth it.

Mental Grocery List

How many times have you been to the grocery store and got home and realized you forgot to buy milk or some other item you were out of? Making a list is a simple solution and Smartphones are a great tool for this. Get in the practice of adding an item to your list once you have used the last of it. That way you take it out of your head and have it on a list. It’s less pressure for your mind to have to try to remember every item when going to the grocery store.

I have always made a grocery list and I got so good at it that I would list the items in the order that they would be when I got to my regular grocery store! Vegetables, bread, canned goods, cereals, meat, dairy and juice. So, as I went from the right of the store to the left, I could easily grab my items and check them off my list.

Work Tasks

I won’t go deep in work tasks because we all have our own way of keeping track of our workload. For me, I keep it simple and just add my directives in order of importance on a word document. I add a task and when it is completed, I delete it. We also use an app called Podio at my job so I can be given tasks through the app and can see a list of directives that are given to me. I check tasks off as I get them done and the app keeps track of what I must do.

It’s important to have a way to keep track of your work or things can fall out of sight and through the cracks. It would be embarrassing to have the boss ask for an update on something we forgot about. Whatever we are given will almost always fall on the boss if we fail. So we either quickly get it done, or let them know the truth that we forgot about doing something. Being trustworthy, dependable and able to stay on top of things are valued qualities. Whether it’s a company program or personal task list – it’s a great way to be accountable for tracking, updating or completing assignments and responsibilities on time.

Back to School

Having a list of assignments with deadlines always worked for me when I was a student. Using individual folders for each course was also a great tool. I had 29 courses in College and 29 folders. Within each folder I had all my assignments for each week. I went through them one at a time each day, each week, each course until I finished school. The more organized you are, the better you can plan, complete assignments on time and stay on track.

Automobile Maintenance

We may not think much about having a list for our automobile, but when was your last oil change? When did you replace the battery? How long have you had the tires? When was the last time you had the air filter replaced? A lot of us just wait for our car to give us a signal that something is wrong. Keeping a list or file is a great way to be pro-active instead of reactive and tackle things before the automobile reminds us. It also gives us information and answers that we need without trying to remember or search through receipts and files.

Housework and…

Laundry Days: Keep up with the laundry. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing a massive pile of clothes that continues to get higher. For a family it could be the size of a small mountain. I suggest choosing 1 or 2 days a week as laundry days and stick with it. Not just washing and drying, but folding and putting away as well. There is no way around this. It feels good when you get it done so if you stay on schedule you’ll stay on top of it. You might also notice that the piles you had stacking up before become more manageable piles to deal with.

Keeping Up with the Dishes: I remember when I first got married back in 1984 and dishes were not my thing. I remember this one day I had so many dishes in the sink and along the countertop that I was not only embarrassed, but I hated the thought of having to go in there and tackle all of it at once. I know that once I conquered it I felt that feeling of lightness and satisfaction. That feeling certainly helps when having to suck it up and do something that you’d rather not. Since that horrible day I’ve learned to just keep up with it. I don’t go to bed if there are dishes in the sink because honestly, nothing wrecks the start of a new day more than a sink full of dirty dishes!

Household Duties: Managing a household is no small task. Keeping up with cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, laundry and dishes can be daunting. Especially when you fall behind. Since I am no longer raising children and it is just me. It’s easier to create my own schedule. However keeping on top of things is much more challenging with a partner and children. This is when delegation and a list of chores can be your friend. Make it a family affair.

Assign tasks (better known as chores) so that the responsibilities of the household fall on everyone, Small jobs like dusting or pulling weeds can be given to a young child. Taking the trash out, washing dishes, and mowing the lawn can be given to the older ones. If you choose to give them an allowance for their household chores – it can be a great teaching opportunity. Use it as a tool for learning how to save and spend money.

Get Er Done

The goal is to get things done.  The reward is the feeling of accomplishment. The hard part is finding the motivation to start. We have so many things going through our mind with a seemingly never ending “to do” list of simple to major tasks. Just remember that even getting the little things done can help clear our minds so that we can start tackling the bigger items. When searching for an answer as to that “good feeling” we get after completing a task, I found an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review; “Your Desire to Get Things Done Can Undermine Your Effectiveness.”

“Your brain releases dopamine when you achieve goals. And since dopamine improves attention, memory, and motivation, even achieving a small goal can result in a positive feedback loop that makes you more motivated to work harder going forward.”

Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats

So doing more gives us the positive feedback to want to do more! Pretty awesome.

I remember when I started going to the gym and someone told me to go until I liked going. I didn’t get it at the time, but I understand it now. If you have ever gone to the gym and done a workout, you always feel better afterward and are heading home. It feels good to take care of yourself in a healthy way, and seeing results can also be a great motivator. Do the things we don’t want to do until we want to do them. This strangely applies to many aspects of our lives.

A Quick Overview

  • Finances: Make a spreadsheet and list your income and outgoing expenses. Produce a payment plan that works for you for each month. By doing this, you won’t have to think about it as much. As an added bonus you will be on time with your bills and improve your credit score.
  • Groceries: Create a grocery list and get everything you need without; forgetting an important item, buying things you don’t need, or overspending
  • Work: Keep a list of directives or assignments you have been given in order to stay on track and not to let any of them slide out of view.
  • School: The workload can be overwhelming, especially at the start of the term. Make a list of assignments and deadlines. Tackle each course one at a time and plan out your week.
  • Automobile: Get in the practice of keeping track of your automobile maintenance by making a list of services you have had done. If something comes up, you can refer to your records and you won’t have to guess or search for what you did over the last few years.
  • Household: Whether it is just you or you have others in your household, make a list of tasks that need to be managed daily and weekly. It should never be one person’s responsibility if there are others to share in the work. Assign responsibilities to everyone old enough to help in your household. Creating a schedule and delegating chores will take pressure off your shoulders.

So now I will leave you to make “to do” lists of your own and chase that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I hope you catch it!

√ I got one of my tasks done for today! I’m checking off this week’s post off my list of things “to do.”

Helpful Resources and Articles:

Your Desire to Get Things Done Can Undermine Your Effectiveness

17 Tricks To Get More Things Done During the Workday

How to Actually Get Things Done with Your To-Do List

22 Ways to Clean Your Home in Half the Time

Operation HOPE – Free financial wellbeing counseling

Podio – Task Management and Workflow (Free for up to 5 individuals)

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