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How Writing Down a To-Do List Can Be Relaxing

I Write a To-Do List For the Day Every Morning, and It Actually Helps Me Stay Calm

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I used to get embarrassed to admit it, and I've definitely been on the receiving end of friends' jokes, but I am absolutely in love with to-do lists. I have special journals and planners to house all of my daily and weekly lists. I use more than one pen to practice calligraphy on them. I carry my lists with me through the day and get genuinely excited at night to see how much I have done. I'm hooked, and that's because I made the process relaxing, not stressful.

To-do lists, like journaling, have transcended into my favorite part of my day because I project all of my anxieties and stressors onto a single page by getting organized. That kind of direction and determined productivity is what helps me subdue panic attacks and allows me to fall in love with the smallest daily tasks ahead.

In the morning, I wake up two hours before I have to do any work, stay wrapped in an oversized sweatshirt or cocoon myself in my weighted blanket, steep blueberry green tea (the best combination), and outline my to-do list. There is normally acoustic music playing in the background and I write out a few affirmations about what I hope to get out of the day. By the end of this routine, I am incredibly at peace with myself and the environments I will go into. I'm ready for the day.

Honestly, it all used to annoy me. I didn't like spending so much time outlining what I needed to do. It felt overwhelming and like a forced structure I didn't have to put on myself. So when my high school English teacher prompted our whole class to make weekly to-do lists during sophomore year, I rolled my eyes with all the teen angst my body could muster. I truly thought the practice was pointless and a waste of paper, but we were required to show our lists each week and discuss why we made the choices we did.

During that time, I noticed a pattern of writing out smaller things I otherwise would have quickly finished without crediting myself for accomplishing. Remembering to get gas for my mom and picking my best friend up from work were just a part of my everyday routine, but writing down those "tasks" actually allowed me to tangibly see how much time I spent on others, which made me feel great. I committed to writing a to-do list through high school, and then college, and I'm still at it post-graduation.

During moments when I felt lazy or like an impostor, I find confidence in seeing all the small things I complete every day on my list.
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Rather than agonizing over what I need to remember and feeling a jolt of panic when I have forgotten something, I am more mindful. During moments when I felt lazy or like an impostor, I find confidence in seeing all the small things I complete every day on my list. Writing down things like class presentations and coffee meetings made me feel great. I wrote out "get ice cream sandwiches" a lot during midterms.

There's a visual element to the lists, too. For tasks I'm especially excited for, I use a lavender gel pen to sketch out where I need to be and at what time. Next to events I'm not particularly happy to do, I write sarcastic comments and sometimes crude pictures. I have thin edge highlighters to remind me of time sensitive projects and I've practice my calligraphy skills for small reminders at the bottom of the page. This form of quiet creativity in the morning is what clears my head and positions me into a creative headspace.

Handwriting my to-do lists feels powerful — as though I am grabbing control over whatever I am about to do — and pushes me into positive self-awareness. To-do list creation makes me a better communicator and a more thoughtful person. And, of course, there are some days when my to-do isn't interesting. Sometimes I get bored, but the process is what is most satisfying, and the end result is what I so desperately need to just breathe easy.

Image Source: Getty / Jamie Grill
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