Making Daily To-Do Lists Helps Ease Anxiety

For a lot of people in lockdown, the days blend together and being able to cross things off a to-do list may feel even more satisfying. And it turns out, creating those trusty to-do lists may actually help decrease anxiety, provide structure and give us a record of all we’ve gotten done in a day. But these lists can also add to anxiety if you don’t finish the things on them, so the trick is to turn the list into a set of mini goals and to think of the items as steps in a plan.

To make your to-do list work effectively, the mini goals need to be well-defined and have short time frames. Psychologists say this is because people tend to give up in the middle of goals. Sound familiar? To nail your to-do list so it can ease your stress and anxiety, rather than pile it on, try these tips from Jordan Etkin, an associate professor of marketing at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and an expert on goals.

  • Clearly define your goals- Separate the tasks you want to get done today from the things you want to do “maybe someday.”
  • Rank tasks in order of importance- It’s not a wish list, it’s a to-do list, so focus on what you want to complete today.
  • Keep it flexible- Plans change and we get interrupted, but measuring yourself by how much you stick to the plan isn’t good for motivation.
  • Give yourself a break- Having a to-do list shouldn’t make you feel so stressed that you can’t take a break. Even if you haven’t finished everything on your list yet, it’s good for productivity to take five. Etkin says one of the most important tasks we can add to our daily lists is “rest.”