My To-Do List System

Working to-do list that includes parent categories labeled “today,” “next up,” and “soon.” Each comprises items with prefixes for “client/project name,” “studio,” and “personal.”

To-do lists can be as overwhelming as they are helpful. But it feels SO good to check something off. Always. If I accomplish a task that isn’t on my list, I will literally add it only to immediately cross it off. Why? Because it helps me feel a sense of accomplishment. And because I experience symptoms of OCD, which are softened with a proper to-do list.

I use Apple’s built-in Reminders app for my to-do list. It’s simple, free, and syncs between my MacBook and iPhone, making my list accessible when I need it. But you could apply this system to most to-do apps, a Kaban system like Trello, or even paper cards.

Screenshot of the categories of a to-do list comprising “today,” “next up,” and “soon”

First, I use three categories: today, next up, and soon. They represent what must be done today, what needs my attention directly thereafter, and what I’d like to accomplish with any excess of time. This is based on the “Eisenhower Method” of task management. His quadrants didn’t really work for me, but they did inspire my segmentation.

Next, because I have both personal and professional tasks at hand, I prefix* all tasks with either the name of the client/project, “studio” for general professional tasks, and “personal” for personal tasks. This enables me to further prioritize my to-do list based on what’s most important at any given time. I also sort them from top-to-bottom in order of priority.

Each morning I move items from “next up” to “today” and add any new ones as necessary. If I wasn’t able to accomplish something the previous day, that’s okay. I simply forgive myself and leave it on the list so I can tend to it today.

If my list is accurate and current, I can check-off tasks throughout the day without that aimless feeling. And if I finish my “today” list, I can either continue to the “next up” list, reach into my “soon” list, or completely ignore tasks so I can take a well-deserved break.

Without a well-organized to-do list my mind is all over the place and I can’t focus. This system changed that for me. Perhaps you’ll find it useful, too.

*Quick note on using prefixes. I would love to use a tagging system, and Apple introduced one into the new iOS 15 version of Reminders, but this feature is inexplicably unavailable on my MacBook (very poor UX thinking). If/when Apple carries this feature over to macOS, I know how I’ll use it and will update this article respectively.

Meditator, experience designer, technologist, international public speaker, writer, family man, soccer addict, activist ✊🏻