How to Make an Effective To-Do List

How to Make an Effective To-Do List

You’ve probably made a few to-do lists in your life. But with many people working from home for the first time, these lists may start to look a bit different. Now, people are learning how to adapt to remote working and trying to focus with partners, kids, and pets as distractions. So making a good to-do list is more important than ever!

A well written to-do list can help you to stay on track with your goals, whether that’s your fitness, nutrition, work, social, or family obligations.

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Tricks to Making a More Effective To-Do List

to do list - list on table

While you probably know how to make a to-do list, but there are a lot of strategies you can use to make your to-do list more effective. To get some expert-backed strategies, we talked to attention management expert, author, and speaker Maura Thomas.

1. Write it all down

Maura suggesting thinking of your life as a 1000-piece puzzle. Each puzzle piece is an item on your to-do list. That’s a lot to keep in your head.

To make it more manageable, we often try to take just 50 of those puzzle pieces away. But as we all know, you can’t solve a puzzle unless you have all the pieces.

So, it all has to go on one list. Yes, seriously, write every single thing you need to do down in one place — this is your master list.

Writing down your to-do items gets them out of your brain so you can focus. But, Maura cautions, don’t just grab the closest piece of paper…

2. Go digital

An easy way to get everything you need to do onto one list is to go digital. A digital to-do list allows you to organize and adapt the list as you need to, in real time.

This list is a living and breathing object. If you try to do make it on paper, you’ll likely end up with a mess (or a lot of erasing and re-writing). Maura recommends Todoist because it’s intuitive to use and it has comprehensive set of tools that lets you customize it to your needs.

3. Prioritize and sort

Once you’ve written down all of your to-do items, it’s time to prioritize and sort them! Here are some categories Maura suggests using for your to do list:

  • Projects: These are the big, long-term to do items you’re working on.
  • Waiting for: If you’ve sent off a proposal and are waiting for a response, it goes here. Bonus points for adding a check-in date.
  • Future: These are items that aren’t ready to be worked on quite yet, but will be coming up soon. These items should have a start date attached to them.
  • Next actions: Your next actions are the single step items that you’re going to take care of in a timely matter. Each action item should have a due date and be prioritized by that date.

4. Create your daily to-do list

To create your daily to-do list, pull from your list of “next actions.” Just keep in mind that this daily list should be limited to three to five items.

By limiting the tasks you set for yourself each day, you’re giving yourself an achievable goal. Too many items on your list can leave you feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day.

5. Estimate the time you need

When you place an item on your to-do list, try to estimate the amount of time you’ll need to complete it. This will help you to complete small tasks in those spare moments you find during the day, and save the bigger tasks for times when you won’t be disrupted.

6. Write your to-dos the night before

When you write down your tasks the night before, you’re setting up what you want to get done the next day. This can help you to set your priorities, instead of letting distractions or your a flood of emails in your inbox set your priorities.

Keep in mind: your to-do list might fluctuate. You may need to reprioritize your list mid-day to incorporate something pressing that came in. That’s ok! And that’s when an easily changeable digital to-do list comes in handy.


How To Stick To Your To-Do List

to do list - woman writing on whiteboard

Simply making a to-do list doesn’t mean you’ll actually get the work done. Luckily, there are a few ways to help you stick to it.

1. Break down tasks

If a task is too big, like “write best-selling novel,” it can cause paralyzation, fear, and procrastination. Break down tasks into smaller, more achievable steps, like “write one page a day.”

2. Reduce friction

If something is too difficult, we’ll likely procrastinate on it. If “call dentist” is on your to do list, make it easy for yourself by adding the phone number right next to it. Find little ways to make a task as easy as possible to get started and complete.

3. Be specific

Your to-do list is communication to yourself. And the best way to communicate is with specific instructions. If you need to make a phone call to someone, write out “call Julie about the new logo” instead of “follow up on logo.”

4. Set a timer

If you have a task on your list that seems scary or you just don’t want to do it, set a timer for 15 minutes. Give yourself permission to stop when the timer goes off. Most likely, you won’t stop. Getting started is always the hardest part.

5. Tie it to a reward

Working from home can make you go a little stir crazy. To motivate yourself to complete your tasks, tie them to a reward! When you complete one item off your, you get to do something fun, like take the dog for a walk or take an online yoga class.

For many people, working from home is a change in their routine. Any change to our routine, especially when paired with the stress we’re all feeling due to social distancing and COVID-19, can make it difficult to get things done. A well-written, effective to do list can help you stay on track, no matter your goals.


effective to do list - infographic