A To-Do List Hack: E-mail Yourself

As a busy mother and small-business owner, I sometimes feel like I should add “professional juggler” as a line item on my CV.

Amidst the work deadlines, Friday grocery order and choir/baseball/tennis/ukulele club pickups, there are dental appointments to book, baby shower gifts to purchase (then wrap and deliver), and any number of other competing interests, errands, and tasks. While the best way to ease the burden of a to-do list is to remove items from it, sometimes responsibilities simply can’t be culled. Children still need to eat, bills still need to be paid on time (though auto-billing is a huge step in the right direction here). There are some people, lucky ducks, who can keep the spiderweb of tasks organized without much administrative effort on the back-end. Not me.

I always have a list on the go. Multiple lists. I have lists on my phone (a shout-out to the free AnyList app), lists on my calendar, lists in my daytimer (including annual, monthly, and weekly to-dos), and a daily to-do list on a good old-fashioned pad of paper that moves constantly between the kitchen counter and dining room table. If I’m not organized, it’s not for lack of trying.

But when unexpected to-dos pop up, or I feel the crunch of a time-sensitive task that I want to get done in the near future, but that doesn’t necessarily have a firm deadline, I like to send myself an e-mail reminder. The email can sit there until I’m ready to complete the task.

  • Send Leah a graduation card + money.
  • Call the plumber about the shower leak in the guest bathroom.
  • Don’t forget to include the numbers from the latest grant in the business plan update.
  • Text Mom.
  • Happier podcast quote: “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” Write this down!!!
  • Track down Hannah’s jacket at the playground.

A caveat: this really only works effectively if you check your email regularly and if you keep your inbox relatively clear. When I send myself an e-mailed action item, sometimes I will immediately move it to hard copy (a digital calendar or list, or my favourite paper pad) but, usually, I will simply leave it in my inbox until I’ve completed the task. If I’m out for the walk and remember I promised to loan someone a book, I’ll quickly email myself while on the go. If you have hundreds of emails in your inbox, this strategy is likely to fall flat. But if you see it routinely, checking off items is as simple as swiping left, and deleting the email.

Go ahead. Try it.

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