How to do to-do lists

How to do to-do lists

Do you hear that? It’s the quiet lull of the St. George campus, post-exams — nothing but passing cars, scattered pedestrians, and ringing bicycle bells. The once-packed libraries are peaceful, and the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. Campus is taking a breath ahead of the summer term, and so are students, who are gearing up for jobs and internships, preparing for summer school, packing up to go home, or heading to far flung corners of the world.

Some of the many Spring flowers on campus. These ones are by Sir Dan's quad in King's College Circle.
Some of the many Spring flowers on campus. These ones are by Sir Dan’s quad in King’s College Circle.

Like the start of any new term, the close of the winter 2015 semester at U of T brings with it a sense of promise. We’ve got four months full of potential to do things — to stop procrastinating, to get fit, to eat well, to have a social life, to pursue that hobby or project we’ve always wanted to start. Before it’s begun, summer feels like an opportunity to have it all.

And then it starts! Between all your work, school, volunteer, and club commitments, having a social life, and the overwhelming post-semester desire for naps and Netflix at all times, keeping on top of your lofty summer self-renewal plans can be a demoralizing challenge.

In fact, just making a to-do list of your broad summer goals sets you up to fail! If “get fit” is a goal, at what point do you consider yourself fit? Goals take nurturing — you won’t be crossing anything off that list any time soon, and you will feel discouraged before you feel accomplished.

Image of a pen and a to-do list with "TO DO LIST" and the top, and the only item being "Everything!" and a doodle of a stick man looking stressed.
How a summer to-do list can sometimes feel. Photo by john.schultz via Flickr.

So here is a to-do list for making a summer to-do list that will lead you to success!

Step one: Set goals.

Despite what I wrote above, the first thing you should do in mapping out your summer goals is make a list of broad goals. Here are mine for this summer:

  1. Practice a healthier lifestyle — sleep better, get fit, and eat well.
  2. Prepare for my master’s degree — learn coding fundamentals, network, and read.
  3. Relax and renew old habits — read daily, write daily.
  4. Explore and reconnect — see the city and spend time with friends.

I have only four goals. They each have “sub-goals.” Since I am planning for four months, I want to be realistic, so I have one goal to each to coincide with each month. I will try to practice all of these goals throughout the summer, but also have them in an order that allows me to “launch” each goal more deliberately by the month.

Step two: Set guidelines.

My next step is to break down these broad goals into action plans with “rules”. As an example, here’s my first one:

Goal: practice a healthier lifestyle.

  1. Sleep better:
    • No Netflix, texting, or Twitter scrolling before bed. Turn off or put sleep mode on electronics by 9:00 pm on weekdays.
    • Keep a notepad and pen on nightstand in case thoughts strike before falling asleep – for example, not to forget to do something the next day or an idea to discuss with a colleague.
    • Practice mindful breathing and stretching before bed to slow down and get into a better mindset for falling asleep.
    • Place alarm away from bed so getting up is required to turn it off.
    • No snoozing! Make the bed as soon as the alarm goes off and get the day going.
  2. Get fit:
    • Save money on transit — walk or bike everywhere, even if its an hour away. Only use transit when absolutely necessary!
    • Hit the gym before work! Endorphins are a way better kick than coffee to get the day going.
    • Go outside! On weekends, go on excursions to see the city and enjoy the outdoors, while getting in some activity.

      A yoga mat, shoes, and a water bottle at Hart House Fitness Centre in the Exercise room. I've been going to drop-in classes at Hart House as part of my goal to get fit.
      I’ve been going to drop-in classes at Hart House as part of my goal to get fit.
  3. Eat well:
    • Plan meals for the week and make a list accordingly.
    • Spend Sunday evenings making a nice meal. Savour fresh food!
    • Don’t shop hungry! Eat before you go.
    • Do groceries once a week on the weekend as part of a nice walk. Try to find local, sustainable options by going to farmer’s markets and small vendors.
    • Save money & stay healthy by holding a small cash food budget for the rest of the week, for coffee, snacks, or meals out with friends.

Step three: Make plans.

So now you have some goals, and you have specific actions in mind to actualize those goals. What’s next is to implement those actions into your daily life. Make your day-to-day plans include these as appropriate within your schedule.

Fresh peaches and blueberries at Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market. I went there this weekend to pick up healthy, local groceries for the week. Photo via Sameer Vasta on Flickr.
Fresh fruit at Evergreen Brickworks Farmer’s Market. I went there this weekend to pick up healthy, local groceries for the week. Photo via Sameer Vasta on Flickr.

Step four: Reflect.

At the end of the day, or the week, reflect back on how your goals are going. Write down what you did towards achieving them. Celebrate your successes and reflect on any moments where you cheated or backpedaled to get around your goals.

It can be helpful to set up a support system with friends or family, to check in on each other’s progress and get advice and reassurance.

Step five: Repeat.

The real way to achieve your goals isn’t just to follow through them for a week, or for four months — it’s to turn them into habits! And when you do things over and over again and they become routine, you’ve done what you set out to do — but there’s plenty more to do from there! Continue to review and revise your goals and your action plan, to write your schedules with your plans in front of you, and to reflect on how you’re doing. A lot of people return to the same goals each year, having lost track of them at one point or another. Stick with them by staying mindful and making reflection a part of your routine.

The words "today" and "tomorrow," with the word "tomorrow" crossed out - there's no better time than now to get started with achieving your goals! Image by Chris Florence via Flickr.
There’s no better time to get started! Image by Chris Florence via Flickr.

What’s on your post-exam to-do list, #UofT? Do you have major summer goals? Or other hacks for completing them? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @lifeatuoft with #todoUT!

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