How a Rolling To-Do List Changes Everything

There are two kinds of people- those who make lists, and those who don’t. This one goes out to my list people, or those who have always wanted to be. The rolling to-do list is about to change the game.

rolling to do list

Why mess with a good thing, you ask? Making a standard to-do list is an empowering way to start the day, and it’s immensely satisfying to cross off items and tasks as you go. On the days that a list gets every item crossed off, you feel like you’re the boss of everything.

Yet we all know that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. We frequently underestimate the time tasks will take, overestimate our efficiency, and are left feeling defeated and discouraged we didn’t “do it all.” Uncrossed items become a source of anxiety or shame, and we end the day with a sense of disappointment rather than recognition of our efforts. We might even consider a day “shot” if it wasn’t perfect, chasing perfection over progress. 

There is a better way.

What is a rolling to-do list? 

Simply put, a rolling to-do list is a to-do list with more flexibility, perspective, and time built in. 

How does it work?

By breaking down large tasks into small action items and spreading those action items out appropriately over time. It’s a simple concept, but once implemented it can have radical implications. 

How do I make a rolling to-do list?

1. Make a master list.

Begin by creating one master list of everything you would put on your to-do list. These are your “header” tasks. This can be as serious as a workflow document in a spreadsheet, or a sheet of printer paper taped up in a prominent place. Just plan to refer back to it often.

2. Break it down

Break down every header task involved into action items that are clear, small, and actionable. 

Let’s say you’ve always wanted to start meal prepping. On a standard to do list, you would simply write “meal prep” and move along to the next item. Therein lies the flaw with the basic list. There is much more to our tasks and priorities than we recognize. When we don’t acknowledge it, we set ourselves up to be overwhelmed and ultimately disappointed. 

For example, meal prepping can include- researching and selecting recipes, making a list of ingredients, shopping, prepping produce, cooking and packing food.

The goal is not to break every item into a million steps. The goal is simply to acknowledge the significant steps involved in the tasks we set out to do.  

3. Don’t panic

Yes, this will be longer than your typical to-do list. But remember- all those “extra” steps were always there. They just weren’t being acknowledged. By being honest with how much effort, energy, and time tasks take you are setting yourself up for success.

Let’s Get Rolling—The Daily List

Next, assign the actionable steps of various tasks that you will tackle for the next day. It’s up to you how you choose to assign tasks. Perhaps you like working through many action items of only one header task in a day. Or maybe you like a variety of action items from various header tasks in one day. Experiment and find what works for you. 

Whatever your preferences, just don’t designate tasks more than one or two days ahead. At the end of the day, refer to your master list and assign tasks to the next day.

Why this works

It leaves room for life.  With a rolling to-do list, you refer to your master list and take it just one day at a time. If you don’t get to an item because other tasks took longer than you expected or something came up, it rolls onto the next day. If you worry you’ll get too slack or easy going- don’t. Because…

It can be addictive and motivating. With a rolling to-do list, you’ve started momentum and have a plan of action. Chances are you’ll even get excited and addicted to that momentum and crossing little steps off faster. Suddenly a Herculean task becomes approachable, and you’ll actually get more done. 

It teaches you to be okay with not controlling everything– and that’s a valuable lesson to all my list making souls. Life happens. Roll with it.

Let us know how a rolling to-do list works for you!

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About Laura Carrillo

Laura is writer covering topics that inspire women to be the happiest, most alive versions of themselves. After unexpectedly finding her love of fitness through strength training, Laura’s always after the satisfaction of one more rep. A native Chicagoan, Laura loves exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods by foot or bike, and she considers the best days to be those that start with a sweaty workout and end curled up with a good book. You can find her work at lauracarrillowriter.com

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