Why writing a to-do list is a brilliant form of self-care


Yesterday, I shared a tweet talking about how I add things to my to-do list having already done them, just for the satisfaction of being able to cross it off.

And it seems I’m not alone in doing this, as more than 3,000 people liked the tweet, and many commented to say they do exactly the same thing — with some branding it a form of self-care.


me: *writes to-do list* also me: *adds something i’ve already done just for the satisfaction of crossing it off* — hattie gladwell (@hatttiegladwell) April 5, 2021


And it made me realise: To-do lists really are a great form of self-care.

Every morning, after a coffee and some breakfast (which in itself is another form of self-care), I sit down and write my to-do list for the day.

It helps me to feel organised and in control of the day. It makes me feel ready for the day. It makes me feel like I’m going to accomplish something that day. In fact, writing a list on its own is enough to make me feel even the tiniest bit accomplished. And feeling accomplished makes me feel proud of myself.


Today, my to-do list looks like this:

  • Make sure you eat something for breakfast

  • Send out at least one article idea to an editor

  • Write this blog for InSpire the Mind

  • Do some invoicing (must!)

  • Take my baby for a walk to the park

  • Check-in with one friend

Although my tweet was meant to be more of a joke, it’s true — I do add things I have already done to my list. Because seeing them down on paper shows me what I have already achieved.

To-do lists are a great form of self-care because it shows that you are taking the time to think about yourself, to think about how you can organise yourself. It shows that you have goals for that day, and that you’re intent on completing them.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

And the thing is, it doesn’t matter if you don’t — because having the list there will help you to feel more prepared for the following day.


What I like to do is to list things in the levels of importance. I get everything that I desperately need to do out of the way, and then I let the little things wait. This is something that was always difficult for me before because I’m an over-thinker and I’d think that if I didn’t get everything on the list done, I was failing. But this is not the case at all — and letting these little things go shows me that I am looking after myself. It shows that I am prioritising my time, energy, and mental health — which many of us don’t do enough.


Looking after yourself in this way helps to prevent burnout


It might seem like everything is urgent, but this often isn’t true. And realising this helps to eliminate the feelings of irritability and anxiousness that comes with the stress levels of burnout.


A to-do list doesn’t have to be work-orientated, either. It can be anything. That’s the joy of it.

If you decide to have a day off, you can still create a list — even if that involves picking your favourite movie and heading to the shops for your favourite sweets.


And no task is too small; I feel accomplished just knowing that I’ve brushed my teeth and had a shower. And yes, this goes onto the list, because this in itself is a huge achievement — it shows that that day, I have done something to improve my personal hygiene, which can be very difficult when you are struggling with depression.


Your to-do list doesn’t need to be full of daunting activities. And it’s okay and valid not to do something you’ve told yourself you would. In fact, a to-do list can be whatever you want it to be. Whether that’s getting your morning emails out and having a work meeting, or managing to make your bed and open your curtains.


Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

There’s a little rush of joy that I feel every time I tick something off, and that joy can improve my mornings — or even my days — dramatically.


And it’s something I’d recommend to anyone: Get up in the morning and write a list of everything you want to achieve that day. Write down all types of things, work and lifestyle.


It helps you to stay organised and in control, which is a positive thing because feeling a lack of control is so prominent within mental illness.


I’m not saying a simple to-do list is a cure or even the best form of self-care out there. For me, I also love running a bubble bath and brushing and washing my hair (which at the best of times can feel like the most impossible task in the world). But what I am saying is that it’s a helpful start, and a start to other forms of self-care.


And isn’t that a positive and encouraging reason to start writing one?