Make this radical change to your to-do list


By Deb Tennen–Zapier

Last summer, a friend of mine was about to leave on a trip for Mexico when she realized that her passport had expired. One round-trip flight and hundreds of dollars in fees later, and she got the expedited renewal before her trip. But the secondhand anxiety was enough for me to go immediately check my own passport. 


Expiration: April 2029. I should be good, right?

For now, yes. But when—or maybe if, at this rate—2029 rolls around, I could be in exactly the same position as my friend. So, I created a calendar event called “1 year till passport expires” and set it for April 2028.

A to-do list doesn’t do the trick for every task

Yes, I could have added “renew passport” to my to-do list and set a deadline or a reminder. On many apps, I could have even hidden the task from view until it was time to do it. But do I really want a task that’s not coming up for another half a decade to live in my to-do list?

Make this radical change to your to-do list

No, I do not.

I do have a personal to-do list (in Google Tasks), but it’s for things I need to do soonAnd, if I’m being honest, it’s mostly for tasks that won’t have too many repercussions if they don’t get done. I’ve had “Buy kid bedframe” on my to-do list for way too long now. Sure, I should get my kid a bedframe so their mattress isn’t on the floor until they’re a teenager, but does it really matter how soon I do it?

Things like “Dog flea meds” and “Pay estimated taxes”—those go on the calendar. They have to get done on a specific date, and there’s something about using a calendar that makes me more likely to do them. 


Why a calendar is better for specific tasks

I’m guessing there’s some psychological or economic phenomenon that explains this (commitment device comes to mind), but here’s why putting some tasks on my calendar works for me.

It puts a focus on the date

In a task list, the due date or reminder is secondary: you create the task, then add the date. With a calendar, it’s the opposite: you choose the date, then add the task. That shift in focus makes me more likely to stick to the date (which is important when I’m trying to keep my dog healthy or pay the government what I owe them). It also makes things that are seasonal—like cleaning the gutters—feel more urgent.

It turns tasks into events

It’s psychologically a lot easier to put off a task than an event. I can’t skip my sister-in-law’s wedding and go to it later—if I miss it, that’s that. Of course, my “events” aren’t real events (the IRS isn’t showing up at my door to collect my estimated taxes on that very day), but the urgency is still there.


It builds time into the day for the task

This isn’t a new system—it’s called time blocking—but it’s super effective. If the task is on my calendar, I’ve actually carved out the time to do it. And if something else comes up for that day, I can use the classic “I can’t, I’m blowing out the dryer vent” excuse.

What kinds of tasks should you add to your calendar?

Here are the general categories of tasks that I add to my calendar instead of my to-do list.

    Recurring chores. I’m talking everything from cleaning the garbage disposal to checking the water heater pressure. I never did these things when they were on my to-do list—now that they’re on the calendar, I do them every time. Almost.

    Document expirations and policy renewals. That includes my driver’s license, passport, debit card (many banks only reissue them on request now—be warned!), and the list goes on. Make sure you set the date for when you’d need to start the renewal process, not the actual expiration date.

    Anything annual. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels weird to have tasks that only happen once a year on a to-do list. I just can’t bring myself to have “sign kids up for spring parks and rec activities” lurking on my to-do list year-round.

Be careful not to go overboard.There are apps like that intentionally combine a calendar and a to-do list (pretty seamlessly, too). That’s not what I’m advocating for. Save the calendar for the tasks that require it.


Automate the process

If you’re not sold, you can test out the process by automatically sending all your tasks (or all your tasks that meet certain criteria) to your calendar.

I’d bet that after a while, you’ll notice the calendar events are helping, and you’ll move some of your tasks there permanently.

But first, go check your passport.


This article originally appeared on Zapier’s blog and is reprinted with permission.

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