Academics College Life

When Memory Fails: 3 To-Do-List Tricks To Cut Stress

We all have different methods of keeping track of things: homework, schedules, your closet, etc. Everyone has a system—even if that system is chaos.

Before college, I believed I could keep it together best amid chaos. I trusted my own memory to make sure everything got done.

However, I’ve discovered my poor memory can’t always be trusted, and a terrifying mental list I can barely keep track of doesn’t help with my stress levels.

I realized there is power in actually writing things down. It helps me stay on top of things and decrease stress.

To-do lists seem to have two extremes: Overwhelming or effective.

Keeping one master list of every single thing I need to do is overwhelming. I hopelessly stare at the list and think, “Ha! There’s no way I can get all of this done.”

Sometimes, “Ignorance is bliss,” and it feels better to be unaware of all the things that need to be done.

But then you’re stressing because you just know you’re missing things. Deadlines sneak up on you before you’ve had a chance to recover from your last daring brush with procrastination.

What’s the balance? There has to be a way to keep track of everything without the frustration of an overwhelming list, and also avoiding the impending doom of forgotten assignments.

Here, I have a few ideas that have helped me stay organized, but not overwhelmed.

1.) Use a Calendar

At the beginning of the month, I fill out my calendar with all of the events and due dates for that month. I view my calendar as a to-do list with a timeline. I tend to be a very visual person, and I’ve found it really helpful to see with my own eyes how many days/weeks I have before something comes due. It also helps me to prioritize the things that need to be done sooner, rather than knocking out all of the smaller projects I have more time to finish.

2.) Keep Track of Weekly Tasks

Each week, I list out all the assignments I already know about (keep checking your syllabus!) with the dates they’re due. I can keep track of things I’ve worked ahead on, and I’m less likely to forget the smaller assignments. I also check my calendar for any bigger assignments coming due or events I need to remember. I’ll take those things and put them on my “weekly” list so I can see them more easily without constantly checking my calendar. This allows for better planning of when things are going to get done.

3.) Make Daily Lists

Every night, before bed, I look at my weekly list and write a new list of things I need to do or work on the next day. I try to keep it as short as possible because, come on, let’s be realistic here: a person only has so many hours and so much motivation in a day. Keep the items on your daily lists as specific as you can—it’ll help keep you more focused on what you need to do.


If you don’t finish your list, it’s not the end of the world. You may just have to re-evaluate the significance of some things and keep in mind how long it’ll take you to do other things when you write your next list. Plus, if you notice a specific item consistently gets put off for days on end, it may be time to check your priorities to be sure it’s getting done.

To-do lists are simply an organization tactic—they still require self-discipline to be effective.

But that self-discipline is worth it!

With this simple organization plan, you can avoid a lot of stress. No more assignments falling through the cracks when your memory fails… No more taunting lists of tasks that never seem to end… Keeping your priorities in check is much easier when they’re laid out right in front of you.

If you decide to test out any combination of these methods or have any other organization tactics that work for you, let me know in the comments!

The thoughts and opinions expressed in Life in the Nest are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pensacola Christian College.
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