“WHERE THE HELL ARE MY KEYS?!”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever asked yourself this question.
Me too. I used to forget things all the time. Honestly, I don’t know what I did before I found a simple solution to forgetting things all the time.
What is it? Some secret potion mined from the depths of the Mariana Trench? A hidden tome written directly from Nostradamus? A message burned into my toast? Morse-code maté leaves?
It’s a to do list.
But not just any to do list. Ain’t no one got time for your dad’s notes scribbled on the back of a receipt.
Nope, I’ve got a system down pat. It’s made me happier, more productive, less forgetful, and more importantly for my situation, it’s resulted in thousands of dollars back in my pocket. It’s revolutionized my life in keeping my finances organized.
In this post I’ll show you what to do list I use, how I use it, and how you can start using a to do list to create an organized financial life once and for all.
- 1 Why Organized To Do Lists Are The Bomb Diggity
- 1.1 Find A To Do List That Works For You
- 1.2 Enter Common-Sense Dates
- 1.3 Syncs In A Lot Of Different Places
- 1.4 Lets You Assign A Priority Level To Each Item
- 1.5 Lets You Set Up Recurring Tasks
- 1.6 How I Use My To Do List
- 1.7 How To Keep Your Finances And Bills Organized With A To Do List
- 1.8 The Bottom Line: To Do Lists—Use Them!
Why Organized To Do Lists Are The Bomb Diggity
Everyone likes to hate on to do lists, but let me tell you a secret: our brains weren’t designed to hold a lot of information in our short-term memories.
Back in the day when people were first evolving, it was enough for Calvin Caveman to know to wear his loincloth with the dangly bit in front of his naughty bits and not on the side of his legs.
Today? Now we’ve got rent due dates, mail to collect, laundry to wash, dishes to do, pets to feed, shoes to put on, cookies to buy, domains to register, hangnails to cut, books to read, reports to file, presents to wrap, newsletters to send, newspapers to buy, etc…
And that’s even before we’ve drunk the beer that needs drinking.
Related Post: Brew Your Own Beer And Save A Ton Of Cash
Your brain is an amazing thing. It can remember the color of your friend’s underwear fifteen years ago when their pants ripped open. But, it doesn’t have the greatest short-term memory.
Think of it like RAM—load it up with too many tasks, and things start to bog down. Some programs may even stop. Maybe you even need to hit the reset button to get things working again (*wine).
To do lists are great because they’re basically free ways to increase your brain’s RAM.
Use to do lists as a brain dump and get it all out of your head. That way, your brain is free to focus on more important things—like making and managing money.
I’m sure you’ve tried to do lists before. Much like journaling, I usually made it about two days before giving up in a fit of frustration. No one really wanted to hear about my crush on Nick Carter anyways.
Of course, that was before I found a to do list system that works for me.
Find A To Do List That Works For You
There are a huge variety of to do lists. Here are just a few of the ones I recommend:
There are a few things to look for when choosing a to do list. I recommend these features:
Enter Common-Sense Dates
Your to do list is a brain dump, and thus it should be easy to…well…dump. If you have to type in exact dates in the format of “THE TWENTY-SIXTH OF MAY TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN AT 3:00 EASTERN STANDARD TIME” each time you type something in, chances are you aren’t gonna do it.
Most good programs like the ones above let you type things in using common-sense formats, such as “may 26 3pm.” It’ll put the right reminder in place.
Syncs In A Lot Of Different Places
You can’t use your to do list effectively if you lose the paper it’s written on. Instead, because most of us are on the Google Machine (I assume you are too since you’re reading this blog), it’s helpful to find a to do list program that syncs in a lot of places.
I can pull up my Todoist list on my iPhone, my computer, the internet, and as a browser extension. I’m literally never without it. I cross something off or add it to one list, and it syncs with my list in all the other places automagically.
The only exception to the no-paper rule is if you don’t have a cell phone you carry regularly. In that case, I suggest carrying a small pocket notebook. I like this one: Shit I Gotta F****ing Get Done
Lets You Assign A Priority Level To Each Item
We’ll come back to this in a bit, but for now, remember: the key principle to getting shit done is to get the most important shit done first. Without a proper ranking of shit, then you won’t be as productive as possible. I shit you not.
Lets You Set Up Recurring Tasks
A lot of what you’ll be using your list for is recurring things like Update Budget or Put Underwear On Underneath Pants. In Todoist, you can achieve this simply by typing “every [insert day/time here]” after your entry.
How I Use My To Do List
To create an effective to do list format, you need to have a system. It took me some time to develop my own system, so don’t worry if you’re not a pro right away. What’s important is to keep at it and refine your method so it works for you.
Everything that gets written on my to do list is assigned a priority level from one to three. Todoist makes this handy; priority level one items are highest priority and denoted with a red checkbox. Medium-level items are orange, and items that aren’t that important are yellow.
It’s important to categorize the importance level of each item because I focus on these ones first. I always ask myself, If I only got one thing done today, what would it be so that I could still get a good night of sleep?
Let’s face it, things will always be getting in the way. By knocking out those items first, even if something does come up, you’ll still be as productive as possible. It’s the same principle as the book Eat That Frog! talks about. I’ve never read the book, but I hear it’s good, and it is on my to do list (how meta!).
Sometimes I will break this rule and jump to some quick lower-order items as I take breaks between the higher-level items. “Write NDEBT” (this post!) is a giant task, and I require several breaks in the middle. Because, ice cream.
But while I’m snacking, I’ll check off quick minor tasks like send in vet payment or check and respond to blog comments.
My goal each day: kill the list and get everything crossed off.
I’ll be honest with you: most days I’m not able to do this. I usually have a couple of medium and lower-level priority items left when I go to bed. But, each day I go to bed at night getting the most important stuff done, and that’s what really moves the productivity-meter needle.
How To Keep Your Finances And Bills Organized With A To Do List
Now that I’ve told you what list programs I recommend and how to use them, how about some practical examples of how you can actually use your to do list to keep your finances organized?
Here are some specific situations that to do lists have helped me be more productive and keep my finances in order.
Remember To Pay Your Bills
Who hasn’t ever forgotten to pay a bill on time, even if you do have the money available in your checking account? When I was younger, I’d habitually forget to pay the electric bill until I started getting pink slips in the mail warning me that my lights were about to be shut off.
Here’s the thing though: late payments can seriously ding your credit.
That can translate into a penalty of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars if you then go on to get a high-interest mortgage based on your poor credit score. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an extra $100,000 lying around, so I gotta keep my score tidy like a well-trimmed beard.
I generally recommend putting your bills on autopay, but if you can’t do that for some reason, putting it on your to do list is the next best thing. This is where having a to do list with recurring options really helps, so you don’t have to remember to add it in every month.
Now I pay my electric bill on time each month. Because if there’s one thing I can’t have, it’s the electricity going out and losing all of my ice cream and beer in a warm fridge.
Remember To Check On Things In The Future
Our lease is up in two months. Even though we aren’t planning on moving (despite hating our current digs), it’s still good to check and see what other options are out there.
I’ve also slapped a reminder in my to do list to cancel a credit card before being charged the annual fee in a year. I’m a travel hacker, and my to do list has been indispensable in saving me hundreds of dollars in annual fees.
Organize Your Side Hustle Work To Maximize Income
I’m a freelance writer. I’ve got my writing process down pat. I do it over the course of three days:
- One: Create an outline
- Two: Write the story
- Three: Edit, and send off to publication
At any one time I’m juggling half a dozen to a dozen assignments. When I first started out I only wrote like three stories per month because I just couldn’t remember all the deets in this process for each story.
Now I use a combination of Trello and my to do list to organize my workflow. Trello gives me a broad-level view of where each story is at a glance:
Each day I look at where each story is and add what needs to be worked on in my to do list. If I see a story is already written, for example, I’ll then add Edit Story on my to do list. If a pitch has been approved and I need to do an interview, I’ll add Find Sources on my to do list.
I made $200 my first month in blogging without this system. Now that I have it in place (and thanks to finding more and better-paying work, which the to do list also helped me with), I haven’t made less than $1,000 in the past three months.
Break Up Larger Tasks Into Smaller Tasks
You’ll always be working on large projects whether it’s a side hustle or even just something around the house. For big projects, the key is to figure out all the smaller steps underneath them and then add them to your to do list with a realistic time goal.
For example, if I want to create and sell an online course in the next two months, there’s a lot of things I have to do. I need to figure out what kind of camera to use, how to edit videos, which course platform to use, how to actually market things, etc…
Witness just some of the ways you can break down creating a course into smaller steps:
If I break those up into chunks and make each one an item to check off on my to do list, it makes it much easier to accomplish big goals.
Keep Up With Your Budget
Budgets. UH. What drudgery. I never used to want to keep up with my budget until I started making it a daily checkbox on my to do list.
Here’s the surprising thing, though: it’s actually fairly easy to keep up with on a day-to-day basis. Did you make any payments? Did you earn any income? It only takes a quick peek at your bank account to tell. If you don’t keep up with it, it’s easy to get away from you. And that’s a bitch to deal with.
Most days it takes me less than three minutes to check and update. It’s a great quick win item; I feel great and ready to take on more tasks once I’ve done it and checked it off.
Remember To Follow Up With People
I get a lot of emails each day from clients, blog readers, randos, etc…
I’m also a habitual opener of emails as soon as I get them. I don’t respond right away though; I don’t want people to know how sad and lonely I am that I open emails instantaneously.
So, here’s what I do: I open the emails, and then if I don’t respond right away, I’ll add Respond to X onto my to do list too.
I really need to get better about this one.
The Bottom Line: To Do Lists—Use Them!
I get why people would be hesitant to use to do lists. Ain’t no one gonna tell me what to do!
When you use a to do list, though, it’s you telling yourself what to do. You’re the boss of you, and sometimes you need your boss to tell you to get your ass up off the couch and go out and make some money or get your financial stuff together.
Boss Lindsay wants to do cool things like visit Norway, learn French, learn to shred metal, and not survive off of cat food as a retired person. Boss Lindsay can only do those things if she gets Slacker Lindsay to shape up and get her financial life in order.
Do you use a to do list? Has it helped you organize your finances and your life more? Leave a comment below!