Do You Need a To-Do List or a Checklist?

This post was updated from the one originally shared on 5th June 2018. It contains affiliate links, meaning that if you follow a link on this page we may receive a small commission. This does change anything for you, but it helps us to keep the lights on.

If you’re a teacher, a parent or (God bless you) BOTH, you’re guaranteed to have a million and one things to do. As Silly Fish continues to grow, we’re trying to plan all the things we want to do in the future. Sometimes there can be so much it doesn’t seem doable. A new idea? add it to the list! But is a to-do list or a checklist going to help us become more organized?

Lists can be a great way to organize your thoughts. Often I find that there are so many things in my head I become overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Every small task becomes daunting. Starting seems overwhelming, but the longer I put off getting started, the more the list grows and the more overwhelming it becomes.

Are to-do lists the answer?

A to-do list is a great way to get tasks out of your head to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Writing down what you need to do can help you see the problems in bite-sized chunks. As a bonus, as you cross an item off the list you can visibly see your progress. This can do wonders for your mindset and motivate you to keep moving forward. I personally like to write my to-do list on a dry erase board and watch all that space become clear!

The problem I sometimes have with to-do lists is that I simply work my way down the list. This means that sometimes I’m not good at prioritizing what really needs to be done. I can get stuck on a big, but long-term goal for too long and manage my time poorly.

This often means that more pressing tasks are left a little late and I’m working on them last minute. I’ll be honest, I definitely did that with this article… (it’ll be a miracle if this goes out on the correct day in European time).

Can checklists help you avoid the to-do list trap?

I read an article not too long ago about how a checklist can help you be more productive than a to-do list. If you want to keep making progress at anything, you need to work at it consistently. Now I have a daily checklist and a weekly checklist. The daily checklist for the blog says things like ‘respond to emails’ and ‘add a Pinterest pin’. These tasks help us to maintain a consistent presence and interact with our audience. The weekly checklist has things like ‘send out one mailing list email’ and ‘make one web improvement’. These items are less urgent but also need consistency to keep the blog growing.

Before I started using checklists, any time an area of the website needed improving, I’d end up down the rabbit hole. Before I knew it, I’d have spent a whole week redesigning the website and I’d be falling behind on posts again.

Once I started using a checklist, I could tick my one improvement off the list and move on. If I thought of something else I wanted to improve, I could write it on a to-do list and come back to it later. That leads me on to…

How can you use to-do lists and checklists in conjunction?

So, working from just a to-do list can make it difficult to prioritize correctly, but checklists come with their own problems. When I first started using a checklist, I’d check off all the items on the list and then stop working for the day. I’d be so proud of getting through things quickly. Great! Job done. Except, sometimes there are things to do that you just need to do once. You don’t need to do them every day or every week. These items didn’t really fit on my checklists…

Sometimes I’d be asked for something and I’d reply, ‘I’ve not gotten around to it yet but it’s on the list!’. Well, it was on the list but not on the correct one. Items on my to-do list that didn’t fit in a checklist category could be completely overlooked. Eventually, I added ‘urgent to-do list item’ to the daily checklist and ‘non-urgent to-do list item’ to the weekly list. This ensured that I was working my way through both lists in a way that made better use of my time. It helped me find balance and consistency in all areas. But things just got even better…

What’s my listing secret weapon?

Because I’m trying to be more environmentally friendly, I decided to move away from paper lists and start tracking things digitally. I found an amazing app to use and, to be honest, I’m obsessed!

Since January, I’ve been using TickTick for both my to-do lists and checklists. It’s also handy for a bunch of additional things I hadn’t even thought of! TickTick allows you to create different lists for different projects, and to create sub-tasks too. You can set dates, times and reminders to keep your to-do lists manageable and on track. You can also set priority levels and sort your lists by a bunch of other factors.

This helps by allowing me to add things to my to-do list and pencil in a day and time to complete these tasks so they don’t just sit there forever. If I don’t quite get to it, I can always move it back! You can also set things to repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or any number of custom ways.

One feature that has also really helped, is the ability to track the time you spend on tasks using the Pomodoro Technique. This technique encourages you to work for 25 minutes, after which an alarm sounds for a five minute break. This allows you to avoid mental fatigue and improves productivity. By tracking my Pomos, I’m also able to look back at how much time I spent on various tasks. This helps me to plan for the next week more effectively by setting more realistic time allocations.

You can get the app for free but I would definitely recommend upgrading to premium. It’s super low cost and one of the best investments I have made!

Let us know if you’d like one month of Premium Membership FREE and we’ll send you a unique code!

Rebecca is the founder and chief executive officer of Silly Fish Learning Ltd. She is a children's playwright with a vast and varied career in education, primarily teaching drama and English.

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