Finding the best way to get things done

Published 4:11 pm Thursday, June 15, 2023

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Confession: I love “to do” lists.

There’s just something about having everything in a nice, neat, and organized list that makes the happy parts of my brain light up like Christmas. I enjoy having a plan of action, so I can focus on getting things done instead of wasting time worrying over what needs to be tackled first.

I write to do lists for everything. There’s one beside my keyboard at work every day so I don’t forget an important deadline. (“Write column!” is at the top of today’s work list.) Sometimes, if I’m feeling really energetic on the weekend, I make a to do list of household chores that didn’t get enough attention during the week. Every now and then, I pull out my phone to write a “to watch” list, a “to cook” list, or a “to buy” list too. These specialized variations of the typical “to do” list are fun for me too. Nothing gets overlooked.

With a list in hand, all these things aren’t just a daunting mountain of responsibilities to overcome. Instead, the list is a guide to show the best way to climb that mountain.

And another confession: sometimes, I add things that I’ve already accomplished to my lists, just so I get that easy spark of joy when crossing that item off! It’s like getting an extra boost to keep going.

But while my to do lists keep me on task, I know the lists aren’t always helpful to everyone. I’ve had friends over the years tell me that they’ll write a list and then never look at it again. Or they’ll feel too anxious about the list that it just makes them avoid their tasks altogether.

Everybody’s got a different way of thinking, so it’s important to figure out what methods work best to keep yourself motivated. I scoured around the internet looking for some suggestions and tips for motivation, outside of simply writing a to do list.

I thought these suggestions from were the most useful to consider. Here’s an overview of different ways to accomplish your goals:

Cognitive restructuring: (Or, as I’d rather call it, reframing your way of thinking.) Your attitude goes a long way in how successful you can be, so the next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall with a goal you want to accomplish, try thinking about it from a different perspective.

The example in the article involved food. Imagine your goal is to add more fruits and vegetables in your diet, but after a few weeks, you find yourself backsliding with pizza and other less healthy options. Your first instinct might be to think about it as an “all or nothing” goal and just give up. But if you reframe your thinking into something more positive (like “the pizza was a nice treat, but I’m looking forward to trying some new healthy foods this week”), then you’re more motivated to keep going.

Create a vision: For people for are more visually-oriented, figuring out what your success actually will look like can help you achieve your goal. If you want to redecorate a room, for example, save some photos of ideas you have. (I don’t use Pinterest, but I think this is what many people use the website for.) You can even print images out and stick them on your refrigerator if you want. Seeing what the end result of your work will look like can keep you motivated to keep working towards that vision.

Make micro-goals: If you have a really daunting task to do, it may feel too impossible to tackle at all. But if you break it down into little mini-tasks or micro-goals, you’ll feel more confident about what you have to do and have a good starting point to begin with.

I hate washing dishes, for example. But sometimes, I can trick myself into washing them if I say “I’ll just wash the pans and utensils I’ll need again tomorrow for cooking.” So that’s less to do all at once, and it’s also less to wash the next day too. It might not always be the best option, but it works for me. (Most of the time!)

Get an accountability buddy: When self-motivation doesn’t work so well, find a friend or family member who will help push you towards taking care of what you need to do. They can check in with you and keep you on-task. For some people, the risk of disappointing your friend will outweigh your desire to avoid your task. (But make sure you pick someone you trust to be firm yet kind when urging you to complete your goals.)

Lastly, acknowledge your wins: If you manage to complete your micro-goals or even your overall goal, it’s a nice to idea to celebrate that achievement instead of simply glossing over it as you move to the next task. It’s a confidence booster to be able to see how much progress you’ve made along the way instead of fixating on any missteps of the past.

It’s okay to cheer yourself on to keep yourself motivated! If you go into things with that positive mindset, it’ll feel less like a chore to get things done.

These are, of course, only a few suggestions to stay motivated. There are plenty of other methods out there to choose from as well. Figure out what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way. For myself, I know that having an accountability person isn’t very effective to get me motivated, but for other people, it’s the only way they get things done.

Personally, I’ll stick with my to do list method. What about you?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.