7 Expert-Approved Ways to Write a Better To-Do List

iStock.com/Cn0ra
iStock.com/Cn0ra

When feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks ahead of you, sit down, take a breath, and write a to-do list. This isn’t just a sneaky form of procrastination: Studies have shown that we’re more likely to achieve our goals when we commit them to paper. If you really want to make the most of your planning time, ditch the old-school bullet format. These expert-backed strategies will help you confront your deadlines with confidence.

1. TIME-BLOCKING

On a traditional to-do list, obligations that take hours to complete appear alongside tasks that last a few minutes. Without time-blocking, it can be hard to tell them apart. Fast Company defines time-blocking as assigning individual tasks to manageable time slots. So instead of writing out everything on your plate for the day and hoping you have enough time to tackle it all, this approach lets you set realistic goals for yourself one task at a time.

2. IF/THEN LISTS

To-do lists are inherently optimistic. By writing something down, you’re betting that you’ll have the time and energy to make it happen. But sometimes life gets in the way of your fine-tuned plans. One strategy for setting reasonable goals without selling yourself short is to make two lists: one for high-energy days and another for days when you struggle to roll out of bed. According to blogger and Bullet Journal enthusiast Kara Benz, both lists should follow an “if/then” model. An entry on the first list, for example, might read, “If I have a lot of energy, then I will take a walk at lunch.” The second list should feature more mindless tasks like cleaning out your inbox, organizing your desk, or even setting aside time for a power nap.

3. EISENHOWER MATRIX


Michele Debczak

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." Someone found a way to turn this maddening statement into a rather useful prioritization system. Plugging your to-do list into an Eisenhower Matrix breaks it into four categories. The first box, filled with items that are both urgent and important, is to be tackled immediately. The second set, labeled important but not urgent, can be scheduled for a later time. Tasks deemed urgent but not important can be delegated to others if possible, and entries that are neither urgent nor important should be crossed off the list altogether.

4. DRAWING

Many people use their own special shorthand when writing to-do lists—which is fine as long as they can decipher it hours later. If you’ve ever had trouble decoding the notes you write to yourself, consider doodling quick images to get your message across. One study found that words are more likely to stick in our memories if we draw pictures of them instead of writing them down. This is likely because drawing takes up more mental facilities (visualization, analysis, motor skills) than language alone. So not only does creating a visual to-do list help you memorize tasks, it also forces you to think them through ahead of time.

5. ONE-THREE-FIVE LIST

Instead of organizing entries by time or urgency, a one-three-five list looks at the size of the tasks at hand. Start by identifying the biggest job of the day—that goes in the number one slot. From there, pick three smaller, but still important tasks to fill out the middle of your list. Finish it off with five small items you’ll be able to take care of quickly. COO and co-founder of The Muse Alex Cavoulacos is a notable fan of this method. She wrote for her website, “Planning ahead like this also means you'll be able to have more informed conversations with your manager when he or she drops something new on you that needs to be done right away—as well as the tools to re-prioritize your other work.” So while it may be impossible to stick with what’s on the list every day, it doesn’t hurt to have it as a guideline.

6. KANBAN BOARD


Jeff.lasovski via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Like a calendar, a Kanban board helps you keep your day organized by visualizing the tasks ahead. Kanban was popularized as a scheduling strategy for manufacturing plants, but as productivity experts Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry write in their book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, it works on an individual level as well.

Start by finding a board. It can be a tool on your computer, a white board covered in Post-its, or a few columns of index cards on your desk. The important thing to remember is that any task you write down won’t stay in the same spot for long. After filling out the three columns—"To-Do," "Doing," and "Done"—jump into the items in your “Doing” section. Any items you complete should be relocated to the "Done" column, and any items you start from the "To-Do" section should move to under "Doing." Ideally the board should be situated in a spot that’s easy to glance at throughout the day. That way you can easily visualize your progress.

7. COULD-DO LIST

Sam Bennett likes to be realistic when planning out her day. Instead of writing a to-do list, the author of Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes A Day takes the pressure off by creating a "could-do" list. In order to weigh the importance of her optional tasks, she plugs them into a worksheet. She suggests reserving columns for tasks, time (how long each task will take), expense (if any), inclination (how appealing the task is on a scale of one to 10), and the return on your investment (also scaled one to 10). Based on those metrics, it should be easy to see which items take priority—and if you don’t have time to get to everything, it’s not the end of the world.

This story originally ran in 2017.

10 Items Under $25 That Will Keep You Warm This Winter

KEAZA/Yeti/Amazon
KEAZA/Yeti/Amazon

If you're someone who finds the freezing temperatures of winter unbearable, even the shortest stints outside can seem like pure torture. But you don't need to spend the next few months dreading every moment you're in your drafty office or outdoors. We looked through Amazon and found plenty of products, ranging from heated scarves to insulated coffee mugs, that will keep you warm without breaking the bank. Check out some of our favorite finds for under $25.

1. Refillable Zippo Hand Warmers; $20

A refillable zippo hand warmer
Zippo/Amazon

There is a long list of unpleasantries that comes along with winter, and being unable to keep your hands warm is definitely near the top of that list. But thankfully, there are these refillable, flameless Zippo hand warmers, which can last for up to 12 hours. All you need to do is remove the burner, add the lighter fluid (which is available on Amazon for $10), place the burner back on, apply a flame, and enjoy the comfort of having warm hands again.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Heated Scarf; $18

A heated scarf
PerfectPrime/Amazon

We have heated gloves, hand warmers, and even heated socks. But what about when your neck gets cold? Enter PerfectPrime’s electric scarf, which comes with two heaters that allow you to swap between low or high heat. All you need to do is hook one of the heaters up to the included USB cord; place both in the inset of the scarf; attach the cord to the power pack, which sits in a small pouch; and enjoy the added warmth. (The power pack isn't included but you can pick one up on Amazon for $27). And when it comes time, the heaters can be removed and the scarf can be thrown in the washer for an easy clean.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mug Warmer; $23

Mug warmer
Vobaga/Amazon

It's hard to stay warm in your home or office when that perfect cup of coffee you just poured yourself goes cold after just a few minutes on your desk. This mug warmer can help prevent that by keeping your drink nice and hot, even if you're away from it for over an hour. Simply hit the “tempering” button to choose your ideal temperature of 104℉, 131℉, or 149℉, and rest your mug on top. And if your distractions take you away for too long, there’s no need to worry as the warmer will shut off after four hours.

Buy it: Amazon

4. USB Hand warmers; $20

hand warmers
Eaterhom/Amazon

If you work in a cold office, forcing yourself to type with freezing hands can seem nearly impossible. But now, you can ensure your hands stay nice and toasty with these super adorable toast hand warmers. Fingerless and with adjustable wrist straps, these plush gloves are one size fits all and perfectly whimsical. All you need to do is slip them on, hook them up to the USB drive on your computer, and enjoy the extra dexterity.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Viking Horns and Beard Beanie; $19

A viking hat
Kafeimali/Amazon

If you're going to be out in the cold, this hand-knit Acrylic beanie, complete with Viking horns and beard, is perfect for bringing a little levity to the bitterness outside. Not only will this winter accessory be a great conversation starter, but the beard and cap will ensure your face and head stay plenty warm. If you aren’t quite feeling the beard—though we really have no idea why you wouldn’t—it’s removable. You can find this beanie in brown, black, and two shades of gray.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Heated mouse; $23

A heated mouse from ValueRays at Amazon.
ValueRays/Amazon

If you don't want to completely cover your hands while working in a chilly office, this heated mouse may be your best bet. It plugs right into your computer through a USB cord and will heat up to 99°F-120°F, allowing you to choose the right level of warmth while avoiding the inevitable sweaty palms that come with wearing gloves indoors. Just remember, this is a mouse designed for work or school—basically anything more casual. If you’re looking to keep warm while doing more precise work (like design work or gaming), check out this heated mouse pad for $33.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Yeti Insulated Mug; $25

An insulated coffee mug from Yeti.
Yeti/Amazon

Pouring yourself a warm drink is the easy part—it’s keeping it warm that gets tricky. And no one wants to rush through their hot coffee or tea just so it doesn’t cool down too fast (think about your poor tongue!). With this insulated mug from Yeti, you can keep your drink warmer for longer, allowing you to sip at your own speed. Yeti is a company known for durability, so this 14-ounce mug is perfect whether you're taking it to the office or on a long hike or camping trip. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Hogwarts Scarf; $20

A Hogwarts Harry Potter scarf from Cinereplicas.
Cinereplicas/Amazon

This officially licensed Harry Potter Hogwarts scarf from Cinereplicas is about as authentic to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world as you’ll get without an owl delivering you an acceptance letter. The scarf is so faithful to the color scheme from the films that it even uses the same Pantone shades as seen on the screen. The comfy knit feel will keep you warm in the winter, and the movie-accurate design will help it double as part of a costume come Halloween time. For a few dollars more, you can buy scarves based on Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.

Buy it: Amazon

9. These Incredibly Warm Socks; $13

Vintage socks from KEAZA sold on Amazon.
KEAZA/Amazon

If you’re working from home—or just taking part in some world-class hygge—you need these incredibly cozy, incredibly versatile socks. You can wear them to sleep on a cold night, keep them on all day like slippers, or wear them with shoes during those early-morning commutes as the thermometers plummet. Best of all, while they’re warm, they’re not suffocating. They’re soft, with enough breathability to prevent your feet from overheating.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Touchscreen gloves; $7-$12

Touchscreen gloves from Amazon.
Achiou/Amazon

Not even the bitter cold should keep you from your Instagram scrolling, and with these touchscreen gloves, you can keep your digits warm without having to sacrifice your social media time. These gloves were made specifically with phones and other gadgets in mind, so while they’re ready to keep you comfortable in winter weather, the material allows you to use your device without worrying that your fingers won’t register on the screen. Plus, the silicone on the gloves will help prevent your phone from slipping from your grip.

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Scam Alert: A FedEx Tracking Notification Text Wants to Steal Your Credit Card Number

interstid/iStock via Getty Images
interstid/iStock via Getty Images

Thanks to moment-by-moment tracking software offered by delivery services like FedEx, UPS, and the post office, consumers can keep tabs on their packages before they're even delivered. We’ve grown so accustomed to getting notification texts that it might be easy to let a bogus one slip by.

According to How-To Geek, that could prove to be an expensive mistake. The site is reporting that a scam currently making the rounds involves a fraudulent text notification of an impending FedEx package. The message is prompting recipients to “set delivery preferences” for the delivery. When smartphone users click on the link in the message, they’re directed to what looks like an Amazon satisfaction survey. After completing the survey, users are offered a free gift and then asked to remit their credit card information to pay $6.99 for shipping. This also triggers a monthly subscription charge of $98.95.

Due to the deluge of solicitations for customer surveys prompted by businesses, this is a clever bit of misdirection. Needless to say, it’s also not a legitimate offer. Amazon is unlikely to ever route you to a new URL for a “free gift.” If you’re unsure whether you have a package on the way, it’s a good idea to navigate directly to the FedEx or shipper website to check. It’s also best to block the incoming number to opt out of any future texts offering to separate you from your money.

[h/t How-To Geek]

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