How to Tackle 8 Major Items on Your Seemingly Insurmountable To-Do List
There’s your normal to-do list (pay the bills, walk the dog), and then there’s that other list: the ever-growing one full of lingerers that just. Seem. Insurmountable. Enough already! Cross off those never-done to-dos—in most cases, in one day or less.
Lists: Everyone—even the proudly disorganized—probably has at least one, whether it’s a cleaning list, a vacation packing list, or a breakdown of house chores. People with well-polished productive habits may even have a list of lists to keep track of their carefully organized guides to what needs to be done in every area of their life.
The truth behind to-do lists, though, is that they never end. Even people who are productive and efficient in addressing daily concerns (paying bills, feeding the dog, etc.) have that one project or task that lingers on a to-do list from week to week, hanging around like a dark cloud for months or even years. The task might be inconvenient; it might take too much time, or cost a chunk of money. Regardless of the reasons for putting it off, there comes a time to tackle that lingering task and finally cross it off the to-do list—and why shouldn’t that time be now?
As a gentle nudge that might actually help you get the thing done, we’ve asked experts, seasoned task-accomplishers, and editors to break down how to make tackling eight tasks that are commonly procrastinated upon quick and relatively painless. Whether it’s making your home and online presence more secure or taking a closer look at the health of your skin, these guides will help you get it done at last.
1. Sand and refinish a piece of furniture
Looking to give that credenza a face-lift or update an old set of chairs? Follow these refinishing tips from Sherry Petersik, author and DIY blogger at younghouselove.com. You’ll need a drop cloth, risers, 80- and 150-grit sandpaper, foam rollers, primer, paint, and a two-inch angled brush.
Set up your station. Spread out a drop cloth in a covered, well-ventilated space. Place the furniture on top. If you’re painting legs, elevate the piece with plastic risers (like HDX Painter’s Tripods, $5 for 10; homedepot.com), which will let you access the legs from all angles. Remove doors and drawers and set them atop risers as well.
Prep the material. Roughing up the previous finish with sandpaper is key. “Paint is only as strong as the connection to whatever is beneath it,” says Petersik. You don’t need to remove all the original paint, just enough to give the new paint something to grip to. Use 80-grit sandpaper to start, followed by 150-grit. Wipe with a clean cloth to eliminate dust. Remove or tape off hardware. (If your piece is made of raw, unsealed wood, no need to sand first.)
Prime your piece. Using a small foam roller, coat with a stain-blocking primer (like Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer, $15 per quart; homedepot.com). Prime both sides of doors, but only the front of drawers. Let the primer dry for a few hours.
Now paint. With a fresh foam roller, add two coats of paint. Roll slowly to avoid bubbles. For recesses or detailing, paint with a two-inch angled brush and follow with the foam roller to smooth. “Let the paint dry for a week so it has time to cure,” says Petersik. If you style the piece too soon, the paint could peel off.
Extra credit: If you’ve painted furniture with a laminate finish, consider adding a sealant over the paint to make it more durable. Petersik’s choice: Minwax Polycrilic Protective Finish ($10; lowes.com) because it won’t yellow over time. Add foot pads beneath furniture legs to let your refinished piece glide smoothly over hard surfaces.
2. Take control of your linen closet
Pull everything out of the closet, but don’t edit until you’ve sorted it all into piles, says Jamie Hord, founder of Horderly Professional Organizing in New York City. Make one pile of bath towels, another of washcloths, another of bed linens, and so on. You’ll see how many of each item you have and determine which extras should be donated.
Designate zones for each type of item. Keep the most frequently used at eye level. Place small items, like washcloths and toiletries, in bins. Bulky items are best stored directly on shelves, since a bin just adds a step to retrieving them. Label each shelf and bin. Hord suggests giving housemates a “tour” of the newly organized space so they understand the setup.
After two weeks, check in to see how the linen closet looks. If needed, modify your approach and assess again later.
3. Boost your curb appeal
Landscaping: Consider your home’s exterior colors before selecting a palette for your plants, says landscape designer Daryl Beyers, author of the forthcoming The New Gardener’s Handbook ($25; amazon.com). If your house is dark, choose lighter plants for contrast. Incorporate a mix of leaf colors and a variety of shapes and sizes to create interest. “You don’t need to hug the house with plants,” says Beyers, so if you’re lining a pathway or steps, group them in odd numbers and space them out. For instant color, shop for plants that are already blooming, or choose evergreens, like Baby Blue spruce or Gold Mop cypress, for year-round curb appeal. If you’re not a big gardener, find a landscape designer through the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. Expect to pay $75 to $150 an hour for a design, plus the cost of plants and labor.
Decor: Your mailbox is often the first thing people see before pulling into your driveway, so choose one that makes a good first impression and reflects your home’s architecture, suggests Elaine Griffin, an interior designer based in New York City and coastal Georgia. The font of your house numbers should also match the style of your home. For example, choose a clean-lined font for a modernist home. To create a cozy ambience on your front porch, swap out light bulbs for vintage-style Edison bulbs. And avoid lighting-fixture overload: Hang either one large pendant above the door or a sconce on each side for balance. Regularly look out for ripped screens, burned-out bulbs, and chipped paint to keep your exterior looking like new.
4. Improve your cybersecurity
Here’s how to help prevent sensitive personal information from being stolen while you’re browsing online.
Connect (and browse) safely. Even if the Wi-Fi at a café or hotel requires a password, it’s not necessarily safe. Paige Hanson, chief of identity theft education at the security brand Norton LifeLock, says that unless you’re in your home using your own Wi-Fi network, someone with the right tools could remotely track what you type and what websites you visit. It’s best to use public Wi-Fi only for websites that don’t require logging in with a username and password, like weather and news sites.
“If you’re working in a café and need to check your email or another private account, it’s a good idea to use your cellular data instead of the public Wi-Fi. Or use the hotspot on your phone if you need to work on a laptop. It would be even better to use a VPN, or virtual private network, which will help protect data sent to and from your devices when you use public Wi-Fi,” says Hanson.
Keep your accounts secure. The best way to protect your accounts is to enable multifactor authentication, which requires more than one piece of evidence that you should be allowed access to the account, says Hanson. For example, after you type in your username and password for your bank account, an automatically generated temporary PIN might be sent to your phone; you would then have to enter that PIN to con rm your identity and log in.
Ideally, you should set up multifactor authentication for all your personal accounts. But if you do so for only one, make it your email, which usually contains a ton of private information. “If you think about it, when you’ve forgotten a password, that reset message goes to your email,” says Hanson. “If someone has access to your email, they could reset your passwords and gain access to your other accounts.”
5. Apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
TSA PreCheck If you fly domestically a few times a year, it’s worth applying for PreCheck to get through security faster. Schedule an in-person interview at tsa.gov/precheck; bring a birth certificate and government-issued ID. Many credit card companies reimburse the $85 fee, says Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of the website The Points Guy. If approved, you’ll receive your “known traveler number” in two to three weeks. Add it to reservations to get PreCheck where available. Renew online every five years. Kids under 13 can take the fast lane with you; older kids have to apply for their own membership.
Global Entry If you fly internationally even once a year, go Global Entry. You get PreCheck benefits plus expedited reentry into the U.S., says Dave Hershberger, chair of the American Society of Travel Advisors. It costs $100; apply at ttp.cbp.dhs.gov. If you’re conditionally approved, schedule an interview; bring your approval letter, passport, and driver’s license. Kids need their own membership.
6. Set up a home-security system
Pick your system. If you want everything taken care of for you, the security company ADT will install your system (installation fees are usually about $99) and monitor it for $29 to $57 per month; the monthly fee includes the cost of the equipment loan. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, smart systems like SimpliSafe and Nest are solid options, says Jordan Frankel, vice president of the residential and commercial security company Global Security Experts. You can tailor the system to fit your needs and monitor your home from your phone or tablet while you’re away. Smart systems tend to cost between $230 and $400. If you prefer having a security team monitor your system, that’s an option too: Fees range from about $15 to $30 per month.
Set it up. Smart home systems are fairly easy to install—it takes about half an hour and mainly involves sticking sensors to the walls. If you run into trouble, most companies give you the option (for a fee) of having an expert install the system for you, assuming there’s a contractor in your area.
Use it right. Frankel says a key move is to always leave the security system on, even while you’re at home (you can do so by bypassing the motion settings). You’ll also want to make sure you have motion sensors in every room of the house and along all your windows and doors.
7. Get your moles checked
Book a baseline exam. Have a board-certified dermatologist examine your skin for anything atypical, says Ali Hendi, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. Most doctors recommend that those with a personal or family history of skin cancer get checked yearly; at your baseline exam, your doctor will tell you how often to get reexamined.
Keep an eye on yourself. If you have a lot of moles, see a medical photographer (your derm can suggest one) or just take photos yourself once a year to track them. “The goal isn’t to memorize every mole. It’s to learn the landscape of your skin so if something pops up, you’ll know,” says Hendi. Melanoma is more likely to show up in a new mark (a mole, freckle, or sun spot) than in one you’ve had since childhood. So look for new moles as well as existing ones that have changed shape, color, or size.
8. Assemble a first aid kit
Prepare your kit. Being prepared, understanding how to use the items in the kit, and knowing its location in the house are essential for handling a rst aid emergency, says David Farcy, MD, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. You can purchase a premade kit from the American Red Cross ($22; redcross.org/store) or a trusted health care brand, like Johnson & Johnson ($13.50; target.com). If you prefer to buy items individually, start with adhesive bandages, gauze, tape, scissors, and a chemical cold pack. You should also consider latex-free gloves, a CPR barrier device, ibuprofen, a splint (cardboard or a magazine also works), antibiotic ointment, and Benadryl and cortisone cream, since allergic reactions are common household emergencies. Add resealable bags so you can safely dispose of any contaminated materials, suggests Jonathan Epstein, senior director of science for the American Red Cross.
Store it properly. Having a well-stocked first aid kit is a wonderful thing, but if you’re the only one who knows where to find it or how to use the contents, it’s not worth much. So take the time to familiarize each member of the household with the kit. Designate a spot for it where it won’t get lost or covered up, says Epstein. This could be in the laundry room, under the kitchen sink, or on a shelf in the garage.
Keep it up-to-date. You should replace items in your kit as soon as you use them, says Epstein. “Every time you change the clocks for daylight saving time, make it a safety weekend. Open your first aid kit and check the expirations.” Follow the manufacturer’s label on items like medicine and ointments. Gauze and bandages should last for a few years, as long as they’re properly sealed so as to remain sterile.