How do we take the to-do list from torture device to productivity tool? How do we write a better to-do list? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Here are 7 tips that will help you to write a better to-do list and actually get your tasks DONE!
How to Write a Better To-Do List
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’re overwhelming and used more for torturing myself than as a tool to help me accomplish tasks and improve my productivity.
Well, I’ve had enough of torturing myself with my to-do lists!
I researched and experimented with how to write a better to-do list, and today I’m sharing all of my tips with you so that you can join me in ditching the to-do list overwhelm and make productive use of this tool!
#1 Prioritize Like Crazy
You have many, many tasks that you could tackle each day.
But if you take the time to really prioritize, you’ll be able to take on your most important tasks and enjoy a sense of accomplishment and productivity.
You’ll also make strides toward accomplishing your larger goals.
There are hundreds of different strategies for prioritizing tasks. Experiment with those that appeal to you until you find the one that works best.
I’ve had good luck with answering questions in my journal each morning to help me prioritize my task list. Learn more here: How to Prioritize Your To-Do List By Asking 5 Questions.
#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. #beenthere #sototallydonethat
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
Grab your Things To Do Printable!
This is one of my favorite techniques!
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 you to push through your inner resistance 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.).
By writing the task as a small actionable step we can get started and complete the task with less resistance.
Instead of writing “find a new desk” on your to-do list, break that task down into individual steps.
Then write just the next step on your list.
Make sure you write it in the form of an action step:
Call Mom to Ask if She’s Using the Old Desk in the 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: “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 break the task down into individual steps and write the first step that needs to be completed on my to-do list, I’m much more likely to actually get this done.
Instead of “social media metrics report,” I’d write:
Compile and Add Social Media Numbers to Spreadsheet
That seems much more doable, and my inner couch potato doesn’t fight it nearly as much.
If you have a task that is so large it needs multiple steps, try using a Project Planner to break it down, 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 one tool effectively. Learn more: Add Hours to Your Day with One Simple Tool!
#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 you’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 your stress and frustration!
Add 15 or 20 minutes to your time estimates – NO MATTER WHAT. Then you have some 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.
Plus, tasks always take me longer to complete than I expect!
Another way I organize to-do’s and in progress projects is with a Tickler File. Click over to this post to learn more: Get Organized with a Tickler File!
#5 Eat That Frog
It sounds gross, but it’s highly effective. 😉
This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy. As always, my favorable opinions of awesome time management books are 100% my own. I only recommend products that I use and love!
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 list first thing, especially if it’s a task that I’ve been dreading.
Eat That Frog, put your most important (or dreaded) task at the top of your to-do list, and tackle it first thing when you’re fresh and have energy!
Developing routines also helps to save energy. Learn more in this post: How to Build Strong & Lasting Business Routines!
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 the ideal length of time for your attention span, work with it, and build it.
In no time you’ll be knocking those tasks out more quickly and 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: Supercharge Your Organization and Productivity with Office Zones!
#7 Create Additional Task Lists
If you’re tackling only 3 tasks a day, what happens to the hundreds of other tasks that you need 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.
Or you could create a list for each of your roles: Spouse, 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.
These 7 tips will help you take your to-do list from torture device to productivity tool. By implementing them one-by-one, you’ll be able to write a better to-do list, boost your productivity, and actually get your to-do’s done!
If you enjoyed today’s post, you might also find these related posts helpful:
- How to Meet Your Goals Every Time
- The Ultimate End of the Work Day Routine
- 3 Essential Routines for Home Office Organization
What to-do list tips have you picked up? Share them in the comments below!
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Let’s get all of the to-do’s done, so we have more time for fun, friends, and family!
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