Creating To-do lists that actually work in 7 simple steps

What is a to-do list

A to-do list is the cornerstone of productivity. You cannot expect to be productive without properly organizing your workload.

Simply put, a to-do list is a list of tasks you need to get done. And because it is so simple many people do it wrong.

Why to do lists don’t work

To-do lists often end up being a source of guilt and anxiety. If your to-do list is too long, too vague, too all-over-the-place it becomes confusing and overwhelming. 

When to-do lists work

When done right the to-do list provides comfort and confidence. It helps you remember and prioritize your tasks, leading to more mental bandwidth and increased performance.

The best to-do lists keep you focused on the tasks that are important. At the end of the day the to-do list should make you feel more organized, more accomplished and motivated. 

How to create more effective to-do lists

To be able to create and use a to-do list as the essential productivity tool that it is you must follow some simple rules. 

  1. Add tasks, not projects

Adding something that would take a week to complete to your to-do list will make it overwhelming. It might scare you off from even attempting it. Instead…

  1. Break big projects and goals in small actionable tasks

 This would also help you make sure everything regarding the project is done the proper way and that you’re not forgetting any key details.

  1. Capture everything

Write down any task as it surfaces your mind. Once written you don’t have to waste any more energy on remembering it. You can focus on the task at hand. But…

  1. Not everything is a task

Adding things to your to-do list that you would do anyway makes it unnecessarily long and less effective. Brushing your teeth and ordering takeout shouldn’t be on your to-do list. 

  1. Make more than one list

Thoughts, ideas and goals do not belong on your to-do list. Collecting those is important as well so make lists for them too. Jotter everything down on a random sheet and distribute them to their respective lists when you have a spare minute.

  1. Plan and prioritize 

Once you have your list in front of you, go through it and add value to each task. Order them by priority. Schedule them and add deadlines. There are various prioritization techniques you can use to order your tasks by value or by urgency.

  1. Regularly update

The to-do list could easily get out of hand if not maintained carefully. Schedule time to go through it, reassess the importance of the tasks, move deadlines, batch similar tasks together.

The to-do list is ready, so now what do I do with it?

Take 5 min each morning to plan your day. Choose the tasks from your main to-do list, that you will get done that day. Add the most important ones to your calendar to block time for them. 

Start small. Having a bunch of incomplete tasks at the end of the day drains your motivation. Avoid that by choosing a limited amount of tasks for each day. If you end up doing more, that’s great.

Tackle the largest and most intimidating task of the day first. Otherwise it is going to be on your mind the entire day,  and you’ll end up spending more energy thinking about it than just doing it.

Every time you want to tackle a task, write it down on a Post-It and stick it in front of you. Then, put aside your full list and focus on the task at hand. Once you finish with your chosen task, cross it off your list, and pick the next one.

Last but not least – make a list for tasks that have been on your to-do list forever, but that you’re never going to get done. Then either delegate, or delete them. Ridding your to-do list of such tasks will take a load off your back. You’ll immediately realize how much energy you lose dwelling on such tasks that would be better spent on the things you would actually get done.

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