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Simple, Effective Ways to Make Your To-Do List Work for You!

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Portland chapter.

Summer is approaching, the sun is finally out, and classes are winding down for the year… which also means that dead week and finals are right around the corner. As a serial procrastinator, I can attest that this time of year has always been a struggle, as the subtle panic sets in that I have two weeks left to cram in all the little assignments and last minute papers that have slipped my mind (or rather, fallen victim to my habit of putting things off). My biggest issue this time of year? I don’t manage to organize the endless tasks and assignments I have to accomplish before it’s too late.

I know this is an issue most of us have struggled with, if not once, many times. So how can we not fall victim to the ensuing storm of panic as dead week is upon us? It’s much simpler than it sounds: a good old fashioned to-do list.

I know. You’ve tried them before; they always sit unchecked and unsatisfied on your desk beside you as you pull an all-nighter anyway. But with these tips, hopefully, you too can utilize the trusty and simple to-do list to beat your procrastination bug this finals season!

Figure out what format works best for you

Do you find yourself being ambitious about finally using a planner or making a to-do list in a notebook that inevitably ends up being lost in your backpack mess or a pile of papers on your desk? Luckily there are plenty of other formats of to-do list that can work with your personal habits and preferences!


Try something my friend taught me: write your list on a sticky note and place it on the lower part of your computer under your keyboard. You’ll see it often and it’s always right at your fingertips without easily getting lost! You can also try writing it on a piece of paper and taping it to your mirror or pinning it to a bulletin board.

Or take it digital! Try the sticky notes application on a Mac or PC so it’s always readily available when you’re working on your computer. Make your to-do list in the notes app of your phone and make it your lock screen as a constant reminder. There’s also an amazing app called “Do!”, where you can easily organize your tasks into categories. And on the iPhone, it will show up in your widgets menu when you swipe all the way to the left most home screen, for easy access to what you need to accomplish and a way to cross off tasks without even having to enter into the app! There are so many alternatives to the typical planner to-do list; take advantage of the options technology provides us with or manipulate a common method to work for you!

Use more specific language

It’s easy to get vague about the tasks at hand: “write essay”, “study for chem”, and so on. But with descriptions like that, especially when dealing with school/homework, your to-do list is doomed from the start. A way to fix this is to be more specific about the tasks you need to accomplish within a certain task. For example, instead of writing “write essay,” you can write:

-Create outline

-Write thesis and introduction paragraph

-Write body paragraphs

-Edit and read through one more time


Of course, some tasks are pretty vague or too big to break up, but when possible, really try to break it up into smaller tasks. It may seem like you’ve turned one “simple” task into five, but these smaller chunks of work will provide easy, distinct times to take needed breaks, and being able to check them off as you go will motivate you to keep working and finish the task! It can also provide you a starting point to tackle a large task from.

Divide it up

I know this sounds similar to the last tip, but this is more about your overall list organization. It can be very overwhelming to look at a to-do list that’s a mile long and just give up right away at the seemingly endless list of tasks ahead, but there’s an easy way to combat this! Split your big to-do list into sections that work best with the things you would like to accomplish. You can split it up into:

Sections – homework, chores and other

Times you wish to accomplish the tasks – morning, afternoon and night, or before class, after class, and this evening

Priority – high, medium and low priority, or first, next and last


These are just some ideas, but I’ve always found to-do lists a lot more manageable when they are in smaller chunks! Try making your own categories that work best with your to-do items.

Find someone to keep you accountable

Telling someone about something you wish to accomplish significantly increases the likelihood of you doing it! Get a group of friends or your roommate, all/both make a list, and hold each other accountable! Post the to-do list on your insta-story and update throughout the day as you accomplish the tasks. Pick a friend and send them a picture of your list; every time you check something off, send them a quick update message! This will be rewarding for you and your friend can cheer you on as you go. It may feel corny to do something like this, but trust me, you will feel much more motivated to finish something if you feel like someone is counting on you to do it or if you have friends cheering you on.

Hopefully using these tips you can craft a to-do list that works for you and will help keep you organized and prepared to tackle everything you have to do for finals week (or whatever else you need to get done)! Good luck on all your tests, you got this!

Rylee Mattson

Portland '22

Hello! I'm Rylee Mattson, a 19 year old freshmen Biology major at the University of Portland! I am a sucker for cats and I love anything music: record collecting, going to concerts, and listening to new albums, just to name a few. In the future, I'd like to be working with animals or the environment in one way or another, but for now I'm just focusing on getting my degree!