Why Do TO-DO Lists When Systems Are So Much Better ?

My Dearest Mad-Readers,

Today, I would like to speak (write?) about another popular (and most controversial) topic : To-do lists! As a quick disclaimer, I’d like to say that to-do lists do have some upsides and may perfectly fit into your lifestyle or workflow. This article is not meant to discourage you from using them but to reflect on why and how you use them. One of my biggest concerns regarding our society is that students aren’t being taught how to properly organize themselves in school, when methodology actually is the door we all need to open in order to achieve all our dreams (and so much more!).

What Is A System ?

A system is a way of organizing yourself. Making to-do lists on a daily basis can be defined as a system. A morning routine can also be considered as such, although it is a very general expression, and let’s also include journaling. If you have any other ones in mind, feel free to share them in the comments.

It is most likely my way of organizing myself will not satisfy my sister or my brother, yet it works wonders for me. We all are different, so we should all function differently. A system should be personal, not universal. So why should everyone follow the same morning routine ?

A Difference We Should Embrace

I would like to warn you about morning routines. I am aware they are most trendy these days and influencers such as YouTubers spend a lot of their time on camera to tell you how great they are at waking up in the morning. There’s one thing they generally omit however : They haven’t always been waking up at 5 a.m everyday. Perhaps they’ve only had their routine for a few weeks, months, or years, but it doesn’t matter so much as the idea is essentially to get a lot of views with a video that will match thousands upon thousands of google searches.

I used to enjoy watching these videos, you know. I used to believe it was necessary for the sake of productivity and happiness to follow a strict routine. This belief exists no longer. Over the past 5 years (approximately, who’s counting anyway?), I have tried a variety of ways of organizing myself. I experimented with no organization at all (yes, that counts), strict routines & waking up at 5 everyday for many many months, to-do lists, journaling and, finally… systems.

System = Freedom

I don’t think I will ever come back from them. Not because I do not intend to change anymore, but because they are so much more flexible! It is truly liberating. Systems encourage you to look for what you could optimize on a daily basis. A system is not meant to stay the same forever. It is meant to adapt with you, as you and your needs are changing.

Routines can’t last forever. It is most likely you won’t wake up every single day of your life at the same time, and you will not even want to. There will be days you won’t be in the mood to follow the typical morning routine or to-do list, and that’s okay! There will be days the only list you will want to follow is that one :

TO-do list for the day :

  • Wake up.
  • Be awesome.

OR worse :

  • Wake up.
  • Go back to sleep.

My Personal System

Listing things gives you an overview of what you have to do, it’s true, but a to-do list on its own isn’t flexible enough, and neither are morning routines.

You shouldn’t take too much time planning (no more than 15 minutes a day) either. Otherwise you either are wasting your time or planning has become a hobby in itself for you (which isn’t wrong, as long as you enjoy it).

This is what I do once every week (not always on the same day, because I’m not rigid, or at least I like telling myself that I am not) :

  • I open up my journal (because I like journaling, and it keeps me from wasting a lot of post-its where I used to jot down to-do lists).
  • I date each page like so : Day Xth Month (here I write what time I got up) and just below that line I add between square brackets the number of days I have been living with the “same system”. It actually matches more the number of days I’ve been journaling, as my current system has evolved a lot in a year (and 20-something days), but you get the idea.
  • I divide each day into 4 categories :
    • Priorities : It is self-explanatory, it’s what you want to focus on today. When I worked as a waiter, I put my shifts into that box. These days, I usually write blogging into it.
    • Optional : The Optional stuff is filled up with things I enjoy doing and which I may like to do that day if I want to make the time. I am not going to feel guilty if I complete none of them, as they are optional. I like to fill it up with ideas of what I could do if I get bored or activities which will motivate me to jump out of bed the next morning. It can be a good idea to fill up that category the day before, and not a week in advance, so that you have an accurate idea of what you’ll want to do when you wake up.
    • Unplanned Events : As I have been enjoying more free time these days, I have given more space to that box and removed a few lines from optional and priorities. It is essential for me to leave some space to unexpected things. What if someone needs my help ? What if it takes me longer to write a blog post ? What if I suddenly feel the urge to watch a movie instead of going to class (just kidding I’m not a student anymore) ? This category has got you covered !
    • TIL/Ideas (TIL: Today I Learned) : Learning something new everyday means a lot to me, whether it be related or unrelated to my main fields of study. I won’t lie to you, there are days I write nothing out of laziness. But most days I write something. Plus, I realized several times that when this box remains empty, it means I actually did my job incorrectly and wrote things that should be there in Unplanned Events or Optional (It does happen, don’t laugh at me! Please?)

Up above is how I organize my day. If the only thing you’ve noticed is how I wrote the date in French and the rest in English… I have a word starting in F for you but I won’t say it, since my parents taught me to be polite.

My conclusion

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t tick off all the items on your to-do list. If you haven’t done it, you need to find out why and change accordingly. Odds are you have set into place a system which is not right for you. Perhaps it only requires a few tweaks ? Only you can figure this out. One system cannot work out for everyone. Find your own way of organizing yourself !

How do you organize yourself ? Tell me in the comments ! 🙂

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post. I hope it was helpful ! If it was, feel free to like, comment, share &/or stick around for more. You can also follow my blog (via WordPress or Email) and be sure that even greater content is yet to come !

Take care,



2 thoughts on “Why Do TO-DO Lists When Systems Are So Much Better ?

  1. I think i’m traditional as I still have a planner 🙂 I find a sense of accomplishment and productivity keeping track of my deliverables or completing my plans through it

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    1. “As long as it works for you” is pretty much the only answer I can make. I mean, this article is mostly here to make people think about why they organize themselves in whatever way. Who am I to say a planner’s not enough ? ^_^ Thanks for stopping by and commenting ! 🙂

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