To-do lists can be a helpful tool or a form of self torture. They can aid our productivity or be so overwhelming that we completely shut down. How do we take the to-do list from overwhelming torture device to productivity tool? How do we write a better to-do list? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Here’s how to write a better to-do list and actually get your to-do’s done!
How to Write a Better To-Do List & Actually Get Your To-Do’s Done
I’ve always been a to-do list junkie. When I was in elementary school I discovered the thrill of marking completed tasks off my very first to-do list. Those lists included tasks like “finish homework, call BFF, and go to high school football game.”
But as an adult, I have more responsibilities and tasks to complete each day, and my to-do lists often run for pages. They were overwhelming and used more for torturing myself than as a tool to help me accomplish tasks and improve my productivity.
I decided I’d finally had enough, and I started researching how to write a better to-do list. Today I’m sharing all of my tips on how to write a better to-do list with you!
#1 Prioritize Like Crazy
We all have many, many tasks that we could tackle each day. But if we take the time to really prioritize, we’ll be able to take on our most important tasks and enjoy a sense of accomplishment and productivity. We’ll also make strides toward accomplishing our larger goals.
I’ve been trying a new approach to prioritizing by using a task quadrant or Eisenhower Box.
I rate my tasks using the quadrant options: urgent, non-urgent, important, non-important. Many urgent-important tasks require immediate attention while non-urgent important tasks help us reach our big goals. I’m working to make those tasks top priority.
Unfamiliar with the Eisenhower Box? Type it into your favorite search engine, and you’ll find tons of helpful information.
Getting more organized helps you prioritize more effectively, too. Here are the 8 steps I use to keep my home office organized!
#2 Keep it Short
We’ll just jump right into the deep end with this one. I find it the most difficult step in this series!
Experts say that our to daily to-do lists should have no more than 3 tasks on them. Apparently, we humans can only look at a list with 7-8 items on it without getting so overwhelmed that we want to call it quits and spend the day binge-watching Netflix.
I’ve been playing with a list of 3-5 items, and that seems to be a sweet spot for me. It feels attainable without being overwhelming, but at the same time, it doesn’t trick me into thinking that I can while away the entire morning (yes, you guessed it, binge-watching Netflix) and still get my to-do’s done.
Experiment with a smaller to-do list that includes no more than 7 tasks on it (ideally, even less), and see if your productivity improves.
#3 Break Tasks Down and Write Them as a Specific Action
Certain tasks on our to-do lists are either too vague or too big for us to act on effectively.
Writing “Find a new desk” is too open ended, and it doesn’t include a specific call to action.
But breaking that task down and writing it as an action makes it much easier for us to push through our inner monologue (you know the one: I don’t want to do that. It’s too hard, and I’m too tired. I worked hard yesterday, etc.). Instead we can take action with less resistance:
Call Mom and Ask If She’s Using Old Desk in Basement.
See how much more inclined you are to take immediate action on that task versus “Find a new desk?”
The break down of the task and the action statement are key!
Here’s one more example to make sure we’ve got it: “Social media metrics report.”
“Social media metrics report” seems like a huge task (it is a huge task), and it involves multiple steps. Plus, there’s no specificity or call to action in the way it’s currently written.
But, if I say:
Compile and Add Social Media Numbers to Spreadsheet
That seems much more doable, and my inner couch potato doesn’t fight it quite as much.
If you have a task that is so large it needs multiple steps, try using a Project Planner like this one to break it down and organize it, so that you can tackle one step at a time and get it done.
And make sure you write your tasks as actions.
This one step has been a game changer for me!
Another game changer for me and my family has been learning to use this one tool effectively!
#4 Add Generous Time Estimates
By adding generous time estimates to the tasks on your to-do list, planning your day becomes much easier.
The generous part is important, too. When we’re rushed for time and staring a looming deadline in the face, the stress and frustration mounts. One purpose of the to-do list is to lessen our stress and frustration!
Add 15 or 20 minutes to your time estimates – NO MATTER WHAT. Then you have a little breathing room and maybe even a little extra time at the end of the day that can be used to work toward goals or get ahead for tomorrow.
#5 Eat That Frog
It sounds gross, but it’s highly effective. 🙂
In the book, Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy talks about how successfully tackling a task that moves us closer to achieving a big goal creates a release of energy that helps us to power through and complete the rest of our tasks.
I also find this to be true when I complete the most difficult task on my lists first thing, especially if it’s a task that I’ve been dreading.
Eat That Frog, put your most important (or dreaded) task first on your to-do list, and tackle it first thing when you’re fresh and have energy!
Routines can also help you save energy. Learn How to Build Strong & Lasting Business Routines HERE!
For decades multitasking has been glorified, and our attention spans have suffered because of it.
Throw multitasking out the window along with your parachute pants right. now.
Start developing your focus and attention. Use a timer and work on one task with no interruptions for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20, then 25.
Yes, that means you need to close your email windows and turn off your phone and social media notifications. Find your ideal focus time and work with it.
In no time you’ll be knocking those tasks out more quickly and you’ll have more time for bigger goals, more fun, and more family time!
Setting up your home office in zones can also help your focus and efficiency. Learn more HERE!
#7 Create Additional Task Lists
If we’re tackling only 3 tasks a day, what happens to the hundreds of other tasks that we’ll have to complete at some point?
We’re going to create additional lists to store and organize those tasks.
I like to use my brain dump list, which I talked about in 6 Things To Do on Sunday for the Best Work Week Ever.
You could create a “Master Task List” or an “Ongoing Tasks” list. You could create a list for each of your roles: Wife, Mom, Business, Household, Board President, etc.
Name it whatever you like and use it like a task “bank.” It’s where you store all of those tasks that you aren’t actively working on today.
I recently started a “10 Minute Task” list where I write down all tasks that will take me 10 minutes or less. I refer to it when I finish a task early, when I’m waiting for my kids to finish up an activity, or whenever I have a few extra minutes on my hands.
The trick with this one is to store your list in the same place all the time.
I like to keep mine in my planner. Maybe you’ll keep yours in a spiral notebook that you always have with you. Whatever you choose, make sure you use it consistently, or you’ll lose your list and create a lot more stress and aggravation for yourself.
Now you know how to write a better to-do list and actually get your to-do’s done. Try these steps one by one, and you’ll be rocking your to-do list in NO time!
Let’s get all of the to-do’s done, so we have more time for fun, friends, and family ~