I used to make a to-do list on the notes app of my phone with every single thing I needed to do. No deadlines, no time estimates, no sub-headings: just a really long list. Over the past summer (summer of 2020), I discovered a new system that works better, a system that allows me to reach max productivity and feel good about it.
All you need is a notebook, dotted or ruled or lined or blank. Here is a pre-made one with room for notes and dates if that's more your vibe.
If you opt for your own notebook, simply divide your page into four sections like the quadrants on a grid.
The first section should be called “MD”. This stands for “must do” and it should consist of things you have to get done that day, no questions asked. This can include (but isn’t limited to) assignments due that night, prep for zoom calls later that day, or any other commitments that are time-sensitive.
The second section, in the top right corner, should be labeled “ITP”. ITP stands for “if time permits” and should be a list of things you really should do…if you can. These are things that need to get done but don’t have to be done that day.
Making the distinction between what needs to be done now and what can be done later relieves a lot of stress. It makes the list look less demanding than it would otherwise appear.
The third section, in the bottom left, should be labeled “AC” for “additionally completed.” Oftentimes, new tasks will pop up as the day goes on. I’ve found that before adding this section, I’d look back at my to-do list and see only three checkmarks. I’d feel defeated even if I spent the whole day working. There will always be things you have to do that you can’t anticipate, and this section accounts for them.
The fourth and final section, in the bottom, you can put whatever you'd like. Personally, mine are labeled “IE” for “I enjoyed”. This section is definitely optional, but it reminds me to make sure I don’t spend my whole day focused on being productive. Take some time to savor your day, too!
At the end of each day, look at what you accomplished and write the first two categories out for the next day. When you wake up, you’ll know exactly what you need to get done and can make the most out of the day.