Having a well-structured to-do list process is the easiest way for me to keep track of the life goals I want to practice daily.
I’ve experimented with many different formats for my to-do list, but I’ve found the one that works best for me is a simple note taking app on my phone called UpWord Notes.
I like UpWord Notes because you can use it as a to-do list app, a note taking app, or both.
It’s clean, simple and has just enough functionality for what I need. If you use it well, it can really make a difference in your life.
Note: You don’t have to use UpWord Notes to successfully implement a goals-focused to do list. The tool you use isn’t as important as the process, which I’ll outline below.
Here’s the 8-step process you can use to make progress on your life goals daily with UpWord Notes.
Step 1: Add a note for each important priority in your life.
These note labels, or priorities, will show up on your home screen each time you open the app.
I’ll talk about the Today note in a bit. But underneath that, you’ll see I have notes for Health, Fitness, Family, Finance, and Home to name a few.
These notes can be permanent life priorities or temporary ones. I used to have a note called “Wedding” when my wife and I were planning our wedding and had a lot of to-dos associated with that.
Step 2: Inside each note, write a list of to-dos for that life priority.
Beneath the title of the note, have a list of subtext lines or bullets for each item. These are your to-dos. You can swipe each line of text left to indent the item into a bullet or keep swiping to emphasize the line item.
I suggest keeping the name of your priority as the first line of the note because this is what shows up as the name of the note when you open the app.
Some of these items, like “8,500 steps,” are recurring lines that are on my to-do list each day. Some items, like “Schedule eye exam” are one-time things.
My Home note looks very different, since it is full of tasks that need to get done around the house. My Fitness note is where I log my workouts.
As you can see, the notes can be very flexible. They don’t have to be to-dos at all. I even made a note called “Notes” so I can write down any random ideas I have or things I want to remember.
The reason I like using bulleted lines in each note as to-do items is that I can “check them off” like a real to-do list, which makes me feel like I accomplished something. More on that later.
Step 3: Populate a note called “Today.”
This is a place where I capture all of things I want to accomplish today. Hence the name.
At the start of each day, go through each of your priority notes and add items to the Today note for the day. This becomes your actual working to-do list for the day. You can copy and paste the individual bullets from your other priority notes.
This step might seem redundant, but here’s the beauty of it: Because you pulled all of the items from your life priorities, it ensures that you’re ONLY focused on items that are important in your life.
If something isn’t important enough to be categorized into one of your life priorities, then it should never make its way into the Today note.
Step 4: Prioritize and schedule the items in your Today note.
Once you have gone through all your priority notes and added items to your Today to-do list, you’ll probably have a lot of things you want to accomplish for the day.
It’s important to recognize that you are human and there’s a good chance everything will not get done. This is why it’s you should reorder your Today note so that you are putting the most important things highest on the list.
As you can see, I also like to bold the most important items so that they stick out.
This way, even if you only get two or three things done before you have to go around putting out other people’s fires, you still had a productive day.
Remember, getting two or three highly important things done is a productive day. It’s much better than getting 10 unimportant things done.
Step 5: Start attacking your Today list EARLY.
I recommend waking up before everyone else and doing your highest priority list items first thing in the morning before your family, friends, or bosses have a chance to distract you.
On the weekends, my goal is to make it through all the important items on my Today list before noon.
If you really want to be productive, you should be aware of your energy ebbs and flows so that you can optimize your capacity for each to-do item.
My physical energy peaks around late-afternoon, so this is the best time for me to workout. My mental energy is highest in the morning, so this is when I like to write and work on my website.
Step 6: Check it off!
After you complete each item on your list, go to your Today note and swipe the bullet right to mark it as complete, which turns it grey with a strikethrough.
Checking off to-dos is an important part of the process. The swipe right is a way to physically and mentally cross the item off your list.
This really helps reinforce that you got something done, which is a great feeling and gives you momentum to keep cranking out other items on your list.
Step 7: Review your accomplishments each night.
First, look at the items that got crossed off your Today list.
Then, go to your other priority notes and cross these items off of those lists, where they originally came from.
The crossing off of the item again at night in its priority list is another form of positive reinforcement that will make you feel good at the end of each day.
After you’ve gone through and done this for each priority note, go back to your Today note. You’ll most likely have a mix of crossed out items and items you didn’t get to that day.
Unless you’re on the Limitless drug, you probably won’t make it through everything on your list.
Clear out the completed items by pulling down and releasing the screen.The crossed off items disappear with a buzz and now, you’re ready to start fresh on a new day.
Step 8: Review your life priority notes weekly.
At the end of the week, I suggest going through each of your life priority notes and reviewing what you accomplished for that week. I do this on Sundays.
It may not seem like you did much on a given day, but looking back at 15–20 important things checked off at the end of the week is very empowering.
Add any new items that you can think of. Then, swipe down and release the screen to reset that priority list just like you did with your Today list at the end of each day.
Reminders are another cool feature in UpWord Notes.
You can set a reminder for any note and your phone will notify you at that time.
If you do this from your Today note, you should temporarily move the name of the to-do up to the top of the note so that the reminder will show up as the name of the item and not as “Today.”
You can easily move line items by holding down and dragging them up or down within the note.
There is a paid version of UpWord Notes that gives you some more features such as recurring reminders and additional display themes, but I like the free version just fine because it has everything I need.
One final tip: if you’re going to take your to-do list seriously, move it into prime real estate position on your phone.
I place UpWord notes as the first icon in the bottom menu bar of my iPhone because I want to make sure it’s highly visible at all times.
As I mentioned, you don’t have to use UpWord Notes, but I do think you should keep your to-do lists on your phone because you always have it with you and are probably always on it.
If this process seems a little over-the-top, I understand.
It works well for me, but it might not be for everyone. I’ve found that I really need to make an effort to micromanage the important things in my life because they are so easy to overlook and brush aside.
Whether you follow this process or create your own, you should find a way to be deliberate about working on your highest priorities every day. If you leave things to chance, life will always get in the way.
First published on Quora.