The Power of List-Making
These last few weeks have been crazy. Those of you who follow me on social media may have gathered that it’s a stressful moment in the semester for me. For most students, halfway through the fall semester is when shit starts to get real. Midterms. Applications. Proposals for final projects. Everything. This stuff along with all the other random things that life comes up with can create an extremely stressful environment if poorly managed. While my (very elementary) meditation and yoga practices have made it easier for me to calm my mind with my breath, my mind is moving a million miles a minute when unchecked. I’m constantly thinking of things that I need to get done. List-making has always been a part of my life organizational practices but recently, I’ve come to heavily rely on it for keeping me on track and easing some of the pressures of the PhD student life. Here are some instances where I’ve found list-making to be most helpful:
BEFORE A WORK SESSION: Whenever I finally bring myself to sit still at a coffeeshop, my desk, the kitchen table, or the little reading nook I created in my room with a husband pillow and old bed sheets, the first thing I do is write down a detailed list of what I’m hoping to accomplish. I’ll be honest, a lot of times I don’t get everything done. Sometimes I might not even get half of it done. But the list gives me something to work towards and helps keep me on track throughout my to session.
IN THE MORNING: Assuming that I have a good night’s rest, I usually wake up ready to roll. I move slow physically, but mentally, I’m fired up. I’m thinking about what I want for breakfast, what kind of workout I want to do, what work I need to get done, meetings that I have to attend. All the elements of my day come rushing into my brain. The best way for me to to rangle those thoughts is by writing everything down to get a mental picture of what my day looks like so that I can get into the mindset to tackle it with a positive attitude.
BEFORE BED: In addition to making a list when you wake up, it’s also useful to make a list before going to bed. This might seem excessive but hear me out. My morning to-do list usually consists of the larger things that I need to attend to throughout the day – finish reading for this class, work out, meet with my advisor, etc.. My Before Bed List, on the other hand, is generally a list of the small things that I need to do get myself prepared to tackle the things on my Morning TD list. For example, I usually plan the specifics of my workouts on the morning of based upon what my body is in the mood for. I generally know the night before, however, what the general nature of my workout will be (i.e. strength training at the gym, running, spinning, yoga, etc). If I know I’ll be working out at the gym on campus, I know that I’ll need to pack a change of clothes and a post-workout snack or meal in the morning. I also include things that I generally don’t have to remind myself of, such as making breakfast. This helps me better manage my time in the morning because it gives me a clear sense of what needs to get done between the time I get up and the time I leave the house. Sometimes I even write down the things I need to take with me for campus such as “laptop” or “readings for Race Relations course.” Again, some of these things might seem obvious but when you end up randomly wasting 20-30 minutes reading articles on FB, it’s handy to not have to think about these things as you scramble to get out of the house on time. One last perk of list-making before bed is that, if you write out your list by hand (which I highly recommend for reasons that will be discussed shortly), it’s a great way to get in painless some screen-free time before turning down leading to better rest.
The last thing I’ll discuss is the cross off factor. I get an amazing sense of satisfaction from being able to physically cross out a task on my list after I’m completed it. It’s instant gratification. I’m pretty sure there have been psychological studies about this but I can’t actually take time to look them up and link them right now. I’m almost positive they exist though! That being said, I really encourage making lists manually so that you can reap the psychological benefits of your achievements. Also, don’t be afraid to include the little things or break down larger tasks into smaller sections that allow you to cross more things off at the end of the day. I’m also known to write down things that I’ve already done on a particular day just so I can cross it off later. I know, might seem silly. But it’s SO nice at the end of a long day to have a visual representation of all that you’ve accomplished.
Push on peeps.