Finding balance in my to do list. Organizing my to-do list Things personal task manager app for iPhone and Mac.

Taking control of my to-do list with a task manager app.

Organizing my to-do list with Things to-do list app.

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I make projects for myself. I would say, “I always have so much to do.” I would say, “I’m always too busy.” But, in truth, I know that, on some level, there are very few things on my ever expanding to-do list that I actually have to do. I just make things up and decide that I need to do them and add them to my to-do list. One after another after another. And then I panic, constantly, that I have too much to do, that I am always so busy.

Because my to-do list is long.


I run five blogs* in varying states of completion and maintenance and traffic. What can I say? I think of an idea and ten minutes later I have the domain name registered and a week later there’s a site in it’s place. I’m a visionary.

But, with every blog, there are websites to design, blog posts to write, archives to optimize, social media channels to manage, email lists to maintain, analytics to sort through.

It’s a lot of things on top of things on top of things.

And, on top of those things, I have several freelance clients, cats who need to be fed and taken to the vet, laundry to be done, an apartment to be cleaned, a gym membership to be utilized, online courses to take, books to read. And, you know, a full time job.

Things on top of things on top of things.


Even Rooney doesn't want to touch my giant to-do list.

Even Rooney doesn’t want to touch my giant to-do list.


For the longest time I’ve maintained two separate to-do lists.

There was my master to-do list. A two-page spread that listed all of the big picture items: redesign this site, optimize all of the posts on that site, take this class, organize my laptop. It contained my wish list. My goals. It contained each and all of the big things I wanted to be working on.

And then there was my weekly to-do list, that I would rewrite every Friday, that broke down those master items into seemingly manageable steps, that contained all of things I wanted to work on right now. This week. Today. But I wanted to work on everything right now this week today. And I was always adding, “just one more thing.” And I was always adding something new that would pop into my head and that I was so excited about that I’d want to work on that right now this week today too.

That weekly to-do list was always ten times longer than anything I could feasibly get to in a week. And I always went in knowing that it was impossible to get through. Still, it was always a little bit frustrating to look at my to-do list at the end of the week and see so many un-crossed-out things. So many things undone.

Because nothing was really getting done. Because I wanted to work on this and this and this and so everything was only slightly progressing and nothing was getting finished.

And I had so much to do, so many things I wanted to do, that I that I always felt like I needed to be working. That I felt guilty if I wasn’t working.

Whenever I went out with friends, if I’d even allow myself to take the time to go out with friends, I’d spend the entire time anxious, thinking about what I should be working on at home. If I crashed in bed with Netflix for a weekend, I’d spend the entire time in a state of jittery shame.

I was drowning in my to-do list. Paralyzed by it. Overwhelmed by it.


Rooney thinks I need to get rid of all the notebooks I buy to rewrite to-do lists and concentrate on writing screenplays about him instead.

Rooney thinks I need to get rid of all the notebooks I buy to rewrite to-do lists and concentrate on writing screenplays about him instead.


I’ve been on a big organizing kick lately ever since I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Kon-Mari-ed the hell out of my apartment. Having a tidier apartment made me feel freer, lighter, and I wondered if tidying up my to-do list might do the same. I was tired of always feeling overwhelmed. I was tired of always feeling like I had too much to do. I was tired of always feeling like I couldn’t make time to go out with friends or go on dates or go out at all. I was tired.

I needed to organize my to-do list. I needed to simplify my to-do list. I needed to take control of my to-do list.

I needed to find a solution that would gather all of my big picture projects, break them up into all of the parts and steps, organize them all, and give me an easy way to create a weekly to-do list, where I wasn’t seeing everything at once, that was manageable.

I looked at to-do list calendars and specialty to-do list notebooks but those just seemed like more of the same thing. I still would have to rewrite my to do list every week. I still would have to deal with messy jumbles of paper in no particular order. Or, at least, an order that couldn’t easily be changed. Rearranged. I still would have everything right there in front of me.

I knew that I’d have to go digital but I was hesitant. I like the feeling of crossing things off my list. I like the physical act of scratching something out with finality. I like seeing my list at the end of the week and counting how many items I had crossed off. Counting how many were still left. Challenging myself to beat how many I did the next week.

Which, in itself, probably explains why my to-do list was overwhelming me in the first place.

And so, earlier this year, I decided to digitize my to-do list.


Finding balance in my to do list. Organizing my to-do list Things personal task manager app for iPhone and Mac.

Organizing my to-do list Things personal task manager app for iPhone and Mac.


I had used the Things to-do list app before. It was a little clunky, sure, but it was really good for organizing my to-list. What I loved most about the task manager app was that I could organize items into folders by category and could schedule recurring events. Plus there were apps for both my phone and my laptop that worked together so I could access it at home and wherever else I happened to be.

At some point I fell out with my digital to do list app and just kind of stopped using it. Probably at some point while traveling around the world when my to do list became “wake up and do whatever.” And so, now, when I did log in, I was just presented with an endless list of unchecked monthly reminders to pay my rent.

But I decided to revisit Things when thinking about digitizing my to-do list. But, both fortunately and unfortunately, the apps I owned were out of date and no longer supported. Fortunate because they had recently released a newer, better, restructured app. Unfortunate because the app was kind of expensive to begin with ($49.99 for the Mac version, $9.99 for the iPhone version) and I would have to replace it.

But I felt solace in going towards something familiar, something I knew had worked for me once before. So, I bit the bullet and re-bought the task manager app. And I meticulously went through and took every item, every task, every project, ever dream, every goal from my master to-do list, and added it into my phone.

And now, I have lists and sub lists and sub sub lists and sub sub sub lists and notes and calendars and weekly recurring events and monthly recurring events and yearly recurring events all in one place, all working together automatically.

I have folders for each of my blogs* and all of the other big categories (freelance work, home stuff, cats). Within those folders I have sub folders for different sub projects like design, social media, and blog posts.

Within those sub folders there are sub projects and within those sub projects there are items with step by step lists of everything that needs to be done before that item is complete.

There’s a “Today” section that I use as a “My Week” section — everything I want to work on this week is in there. And if I go to that screen it’s all I see and I can ignore everything else in the background. And I can easily drag and drop items to reorder which I will work on first. Which I will work on today. Which I will work on right now.



And I have a couple of static items in there, a master project or two that I’m working my way through. And every Monday my to-do list refreshes with about ten items, sub items, tasks, for me to work on that week. And every Friday it reminds me to do my laundry that weekend. And the first of every month it reminds me to pay my rent. And once a month it tells me to write blog posts for all of my other blogs. And three times a week it tells me to go to the gym. And once a year it will tell me to do maintenance things for my blogs: clean up broken links, add more emails to the automation flow, revisit my Pinterest boards.

And if I finish a project completely I can mark it as complete and move a new one in. But only, I tell myself, when I finish a project completely.

So even if I think, “I really should start on that second email incentive e-book for this site,” I have to force myself to think, “no, you should finish your social media automation for my other site first.” Because that is what I’m working on right now. Because that is what my to-do list app has in front of me. Right now. This week. Today.

And no, I don’t get that physical thrill of crossing something off with a pen. Of looking at a paper full of crossed-off items at the end of the week.

But I do get to check a box with my finger and watch items disappear. And I do get to look at my digitized to-do list at the end of each week nearly empty, with barely any items left.

And that’s something.

And I have felt a little lighter. I have felt more in control. I mean, I still have an impossibly long to-do list. I still make a million projects for myself. I still have a million projects I want to be working on. I still have so much to do. I’m still too busy.

But, ever since organizing my to-do list, taking control of my to-do list, digitizing my to-do list, I have felt more apt to take a break. To step back and breathe. To go out with friends. And to not be worried, panicked, anxious the entire time. To watch Netflix and not beat myself up for it. To put all those tasks out of my mind, for at least a few moments, because, for once, I know things are getting done.

Rooney says, ditching all of these notebooks for a to-do list iPhone app means you have more time to play!

Rooney says, ditching all of these notebooks for a to-do list iPhone app means you have more time to play!

*Since everyone always asks, here are all of the blogs I maintain.

Choosing Figs - Neurotic as Hell - A blog about going after the life you want and doing those things you've always wanted to do.


Choosing Figs is this blog (obviously), my personal blog, and my main website where I write about life as a neurotic 30-something single girl who can’t make life decisions. And my cats.

Silly America - Road Trips and Roadside Attractions Blog


I started Silly America, a blog about roadside attractions, in 2007, about a year after I started this blog. It actually used to be my biggest site and attracted the most traffic but I neglected it for a while while I traveled abroad and haven’t been able to keep it up since I sold my car and no longer can go on unlimited road trips. I’ve been focusing on it again a lot more lately, though, redesigning the website, posting about attractions I never got around to before, and building up a new social community. Maybe I’ll rent a car someday soon and take another road trip again…

The Backslackers - Satirical Backpacking Blog


The Backslackers is a fictional/satirical travel blog written from the perspective of two of the world’s worst travelers, Amy and Zach (but all, really, written by me). The idea actually came to me in a dream and was originally supposed to be a scripted web series but a) the guy I was kind of working on it with moved to New York and b) I don’t really know how to write a web series. So it kind of stalled out but I still try to keep up with writing blog posts. I’m hoping to actually write the web series someday, I just need to figure out a plot. And how to write dialogue. And how to make videos.

Cats Before Hats - Knitting for Cats and the Humans that Love Them


Cats Before Hats is a new blog I started this year about cats and knitting. Because I didn’t have enough on my plate already. This blog also started as more of an idea for a web series. But, again, I know how to write blogs and know very little about video. Maybe I should learn how to make a web series? Maybe. I’ve posted a few posts so far and hope to continue posting at least once per month and hopefully will someday figure out how to make videos. Or at least how to knit cat things.

Milkshakes are Awesome - a blog about milkshakes


A blog about milkshakes. Because milkshakes are awesome. And I don’t have enough blogs already. I really haven’t actually done anything with this blog yet except set up a shell of a website. I don’t even think I finished the first blog post that’s on there. I just liked the name and found the domain name was available so I bought it. Because that’s what I do. I may do more with this someday but out of everything I’m working on, this is the lowest priority.


Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

1 Comment
  • Ali
    May 24, 2018at1:50 am

    I really HAVE been curious about all the domains you’re always talking about buying. Andy and I have a similarly long list of websites we haven’t done much with in addition to our other sites. Also, I have so many to-do lists floating around my desk and my computer. I occasionally go through files on my laptop and find a to-do list from last year or something, and realize, hey many of these things are still on my list, still unfinished. Ugh.

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