My Secret to Sleeping Well Every Night

It’s yellow and the size of a piece of paper.

I never leave home without a pocketful of 3×5 cards. And I’d rather forget my wallet than not have a pen. I can always get by without a credit card, after all…but I never know when I’ll need to write something down.

These days, my short-term memory is like writing in the sand on a windy day. No matter how many times I tell myself, “I’ll remember this when I get home,” it’s usually gone before I’ve taken three steps.

So, I’ve gotten in the habit of scribbling every one of my brain-farts onto a 3×5 card. And every evening I lay them all out and review what I’ve written.

Most of those 3×5 thoughts could just as easily have been forgotten. But there’s always the occasional nugget: that call I really do need to make; the chore that needs doing; the sparkle of an idea that I might be able to turn into a gem on social media.

But the most important task of the evening is putting together my To-Do list. I do a new one every night. I use an 8-1/2 x 11 yellow pad. Everything fits on a single page. And there are only three categories: Primary, Secondary and Other. 

Each night, I take everything that didn’t get crossed off during the day and transcribe it onto a fresh page. I add anything from my 3×5 cards that makes the cut. Then I throw the old sheet and the used cards away.

I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve tried almost every one of the digital To-Do list apps, but I’ve never found anything that works better for me than writing things out by hand.

For one thing, manually transferring each undone item to a new page forces me to re-evaluate it. Have my priorities changed? Can it wait? Can I ask someone else to do it…or better yet not do it at all?

By putting just a few items into the Primary column, I’m forced to focus on what’s important, rather than what’s urgent. It keeps me from falling into the trap of crossing off a lot of tasks because they are easy and short, rather than focusing on the things I really want to get done.

I also pay a lot of attention to the “Other” category. If something has been lingering there for a while, it’s natural to ask, “what is this doing here at all?” Is it something I ever intend to do, or is this just an unrealistic aspiration?  

If so, I’ll add it to my “some day” list – one of the two lists that I do keep on my phone (The other is a list of ideas for future social posts, which has several hundred items on it. And once I hit publish on this, there’ll be one less). But I rarely look at either of those. Because the whole point of having “not-going-to-do” lists is that they free you up to focus on the things you are going to do.

And that brings me to the real reason I write a new list every night: by touching every single item on the list, it ensures that I never forget something. 

I never worry that there is something crucial that needs doing that I don’t know about. At night, I sleep like a dog: in any position, on any object, at any time. Sure, I’ll chase the occasional rabbit in my dreams, but I’m almost never staring at the ceiling worrying about something.

I may have a long list of things I need to do. I may have complicated or unresolved issues to deal with.  But I never have that nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something. I know that my list will be waiting for me in the morning.   

No point in worrying about it now.



Many ideas in this post were first discussed in the Neverland entrepreneurial community. Join us there!

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