It’s the beginning of a new semester—a good time to start getting organized, Ava thinks to herself. She doesn’t want a repeat of last semester when, despite her best intentions, she missed countless deadlines or found herself cramming the night before a test. Everyone keeps telling her to just use to-do lists. Write down what you need to-do, do it, and check it off. Easy, right? Not for Ava who has ADHD and has tried to-do lists over and over again only to lose them or forget to write something important down. At this point, the mere mention of to-do lists triggers feelings of shame and anxiety. Something needs to change, but what options are out there for those who need a to-do list alternative? In this article, you’ll learn why to-do lists don’t work for everyone and explore a variety of time management systems and tools to help you find something that works best for you.
To-Do List Problems
Everyone knows what it’s like to have a love-hate relationship with time management; however, individuals with ADHD or any other form of executive function deficit that involves time blindness may struggle with to-do lists. To make to-do lists work, users have to remember to add tasks to the list, regularly update the list with new tasks or changes, check the list, choose tasks, and complete them. If someone has trouble with any step along the way, then the whole thing falls apart. So, even though to-do lists seem like a simple tool that anyone should be able to use, they are not as simple as they seem and are definitely not a one-size-fits all solution. If to-do lists don’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you’re lazy, stupid, or broken. It just means that you haven’t found a method that matches who you are and how you think.
To-Do Something Different
Okay, so at this point, you’re probably ready to learn all about alternatives to the classic to-do list. Well, here’s the truth: it’s almost impossible to manage time without some sort of to-do list. Reimagining to-do lists means taking the things that don’t work about to-do lists and creating a system that is simple, easy-to-use, engaging, rewarding, and most importantly, effective.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Make your to-do list your buddy. Just like a friend, it’s important to keep your time management system close. Whether it’s a notebook, planner, or apps on your phone, your to-do list should be something you can take anywhere so you can check and update it.
- It’s a date! Set aside a consistent time every day, preferably the time of day you feel most productive, to put new assignments or appointments on your calendar, move tasks from calendars to a daily to-do list, and break down bigger tasks (e.g. projects, studying for finals, SAT prep, college applications) into more manageable pieces.
- Paper or digital? There are a lot of apps out there promising to help you manage your time better. Some are better than others, but Google Calendar and Google Tasks are a good place to start. What if I told you that old fashioned paper lists might actually be better? There’s something about physically writing something down that makes it real. And if you need your to-do list to give you a little dopamine rush every time you open it up, then pick out a planner or journal that makes you happy.
- Bullet Journals. This crafty alternative to a to-do list is a mix of daily planner and diary that lets you get creative with time management while also helping you track behavior patterns and progress towards your future goals. Getting started with a bullet journal can be tricky, so it’s worth checking out video tutorials on how to design your own before trying them out.
- Step out of line. Try non-linear lists like mind maps, post-its, or white boards that give you more creative freedom to brainstorm tasks. Write everything that you need to do, move it around, and visualize it before categorizing and prioritizing your actual lists.
- Break it down. One of the most satisfying things about a to-do list is crossing something off of it, so why not create a list that gives you that buzz more often. Break down your tasks into smaller pieces, so you can track your progress and reward the effort you put in along the way.
- Reuse and Recycle. There are some tasks that you’ll do often enough that having a to-do list template ready to go is a great way to save time and reduce stress. So, let’s say you’ve already created a list for studying for an exam or writing a research paper, don’t delete it or throw it away! When the next exam or paper comes up, just update it.
- Clever Calendars. Skip lists and stick to the calendar, but be specific. Don’t write vague tasks like “Study for Biology Test,” and instead write something like “Review Cell Structures” and note what time of day you’ll do it, how long you think it will take, and what supplies you might need.
- Mix it up. Don’t feel like you have to stick to just one of these methods. Use your favorite or use a couple together. If something isn’t working try new methods until you find what works best for you.
How A+ Can Help
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, we offer Executive Function Coaching services that help students create strategies and routines that build confidence and facilitate success. Learning how to manage time effectively is not only an important life skill, but it’s also a skill that can be difficult to figure out on your own. After completing intake surveys and a Mindprint assessment that gives students insights into how they learn, coaches and students work together to comprehensively address the root causes of a problem and work towards specific, measurable, and relevant goals. It’s all about finding solutions that fit the student, making it easier to buy into trying something new.
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Director Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.