How to Use a Master To Do List to Tame a Scattered Brain

Show of hands, who feels like they have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done?  Yeah, me too!  

When it comes to making sure everything gets done, it can be a tough balancing act.  That’s one of the reasons setting priorities is so important, so we can focus on the areas that matter most to us.  But that’s only half the problem.  

The other side of that is that there are still all these things that we need or want to do, and they’re floating around in our heads.  All that mental clutter tries to draw our attention to it and soon we find ourselves feeling very scattered.  That’s where having a master to-do list can come in really handy.

How to use a Master To Do List to Tame a Scattered Brain

There are a number of tips and tools that we can turn to when we’re feeling scattered.  Earlier in this challenge, I talked about one of my favourite ways to tame a scattered brain by using a brain dump.  A brain dump is a great way to clear away internal clutter.

Today I’m going to share how to take that step to a whole new level by creating a master to-do list to help get those pesky to do’s out of your head so they stop trying to vie for your attention.

Master To Do List

A master to-do list is simply a list where you keep track of everything you need to do.  You can make this as simple or as complex as you like and as your needs require.  I prefer to keep a few different master lists for the different areas of my life, but I know many people who use a single notebook and just add to the list as things pop in their heads.

There are two ways that I use a master to do list.

  1. Use it as a structured brain dump.  Sometimes a regular brain dump just isn’t enough to clear my head.  For me, this usually signifies that I am in need of a little more structure.  So I’ll add things to my master to do list, or even create an entirely new one.   I take the time to think about what I’m writing on the list, sometimes I add in a time frame for how long I think a task will take, other times I take a few minutes to colour code them or highlight groups of tasks that seem to go together.  This kind of master list, for me, stays on my desk or in my planner for a week or two and then gets tossed into the recycle bin.  Before I toss it, I go through it and jot down any remaining items that I feel are important onto my other master to do lists.
  2. To keep a running list of tasks or jobs that need to completed.  This master list is one that I will keep in my planner and pull out when I have some free time or when I’m sitting down to plan out my month.  When something comes up that needs my attention or if I notice something that needs to be done around the house, I write it down on these lists.   I keep different lists for different areas of my life so that I can prioritize and spread out the tasks.  These lists won’t find their way into my recycle bin until everything is crossed off them or I’ve transferred all the undone items to a new list.

The biggest difference between a master to-do list and a brain dump is intention.  By creating a master to-do list, you’re saying to yourself that these things are important and need your attention.  You are creating a plan to deal with them, even if all you’ve done right now is make a list.  On the other hand, a brain dump is just designed to get things out of your head so you can stop worrying about them.

For me, a brain dump usually comes before I create or add to my master lists.  I usually wait a day or two and then go through what I wrote and add items onto my master to-do list where they fit.  I try to make sure that I’m not overloading my lists with a bunch of things to do, rather I try to choose what is important or urgent and forget about the rest.

At the beginning of each month, I sit down with my lists and see if there are any seasonal tasks that need attention that month.  Then I pick at least one item from each life area and schedule a day to get it done.  Throughout the month when I have some free time or I’m in the mood to tackle something in a certain area, I pull out my list and see what I can do.

Because I use my master to-do list as part of my planning process and refer to it throughout the month it has helped create this internal understanding that if I put something on that list I’m not going to just forget about it, unlike with a brain dump.  This tool can really help to keep your thoughts less scattered and allow you to focus more on the things that need your attention.

Master To Do List Printables

I keep a running master to-do list in two different places – at the front of my planner where I jot things down as I think of them and in my planning section of my planner where I organize all those items into categories or life areas.  

The one at the front is just a piece of lined paper that I replace as it gets full.  In my planning section though I use my to-do list printables to help keep my lists organized.   I decided it was time to update that section a little and whipped some new Master To-Do List printables to match the 2016 calendars.

Master to do list printable in Deep Lilac and Cobalt.

Fill in the top section with whatever category you want.  Or use one for each month.

Master to do list printable in Spring Grass and Blush

You could cut them in half and hang them on your fridge or message board.

Master to do list printable in Summer Orange and Raspberry

Or do like I do and keep them in your planner.  I’m sure there a are hundred different ways these could be used.

As always to snag a copy for yourself simply click the pic!  For those that want all of them I have them all bundled together in one document for you, just click the pic below.

A collection of to do list printables designed to match the 2016 calendar colours and style

Whether you choose to use these printables as a master to-do list or something else, I do hope you’ll at least give creating a master to-do list a try to see if it works for you.  I know for me that it is one the quickest ways to tame my scattered brain when I feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Give it a try and see if it does the same for you.

Do you use a master to-do list?  Do you find it helpful?

A master to do list can go a long way to taming a scattered brain. Use the handy printable to help create a to do list that will keep you on track

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  1. Karen Gazdacko McPeek says:

    I needed to do some refreshing to my calendar and to-do lists and these are perfect! Thank you!! I got your calendar printable too. 🙂

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      I hope these help. Enjoy your calendar!

  2. Roxanne Bixler says:

    Hi Alli
    This Roxanne and I’ve been trying to print the half size and personal size master to do list and it doesn’t come up so I can print or save to my file could you give me some pointers of what I should do. I got the full size one but not the other two sizes

    1. ScatteredSquirrel says:

      Hi Roxanne, I’m so sorry you’re having some trouble, I’m happy to try and help. First, the easiest way to do this – do I have your permission to email them to you using the email you used for this comment? If you’re not comfortable with that, I totally understand. The next step is to check your downloads folder to see if they somehow just automatically downloaded there. Sometimes that’s what the browsers do. If they’re not there, can you please tell me what browser you are using? That way I can do some research to see if it’s an ongoing problem.

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