Looking for ways to make an effective to-do list? I have been using a to-do list to handle my everyday tasks for years. And I can say that having a to-do list is absolutely helpful in getting what I want to be done, done.
But sometimes, there are also days when I find that a to-do list is just overwhelming and I don’t get whatever I wrote down on my list done.
There are a couple of reasons why sometimes having a to-do list is not going to be effective. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- People get overwhelmed by creating too many to-do tasks. When they look at their list of 20 things that they need to do in a day, they feel overwhelmed.
- They don’t prioritize their action tasks. If you are going to just write down what you need to do but you are not prioritizing them accordingly, you are as good as having no to-do list.
- They feel that they are not getting the work done. They keep on adding tasks to their to-do list, but they are not getting the tasks done.
- They feel confused about what they can do even when they have a to-do list. This is usually because their action items lack clarity.
- They feel stressful whenever they look at their to-do list.
If you too, face the above situations, don’t worry, use these 10 super tips below to help you build a more effective to-do list that will propel you into taking action.
Remember, the purpose of your to-do list is to make your more productive, not the other way round.
Thus, follow these 10 suggestions below to build an effective to-do list.
1. Make your task specific, actionable, and measurable
I believe this is one of the most common reasons people fail with their to-do list. The lack of clarity.
Whenever they write down the things that they need to get done, they are being too vague. For instance, they write down tasks such as, write a blog post, prospecting, or go to the gym.
These are vague tasks. In order to make your list effective, you must be specific. Make your tasks actionable and measurable.
Don’t just write down “write a blog post”, instead, write down “write 1,000 words from 1PM to 2PM”.
When you make this task specific, you are telling your mind when you need the task done and what exactly you need to do.
Don’t just write down that you need to do “prospecting”, instead, write down “call 20 potential customers from the company’s database from 9AM to 10AM.”
Remember, make your tasks actionable. Make them something that you can ACT ON, something you can actually DO.
And of course, include some measurable metrics to your list too.
Don’t have a list yet or don’t know how to make one? Read this article:
2. Do not have more than 5 items on your list
This is a matter of quality over quantity.
Many years ago, when I first started to write down my to-do list, like most people, I wrote down many items. More than 10, if I’m not mistaken.
And usually, by the end of the day, I only get a few of those tasks done. I feel tired, exhausted, and stressful because I’m not fulfilling the promise that I made to myself.
Today, my to-do list consists of only a few important items. Usually, not more than 5 items.
I know it very well that my to-do list should be a list of important things I need to get done, not of a list of whatever-things-I-need-to-do.
So I only write down things that are absolutely important and something that I must do to achieve my goals.
You want to focus your energy and time on high-impact tasks, not just any task.
Therefore, my suggestion is that you shouldn’t have more than 5 items on your list.
There is no point to have 20 items when you only get 5 done. It is better to focus on getting the most important things done than to get as much low-impact work done.
3. Prioritize your list accordingly
Again, you must prioritize your tasks according to your goals. I know this is common sense and you already knew about this, but this also what most people don’t do, because they underestimated its importance.
You can rank your tasks accordingly, but I don’t write down #1, #2, or #3. Instead, I write down the most important task that I need to get done on top of my list.
As I go through my list to the bottom, the less important the tasks are.
One more thing about prioritizing your list. Make sure your prioritization strategy is in harmony with your goals.
You want to achieve your goals, right? So prioritize the most impactful task that will get you to your goal on top of your list.
Your to-do list can only be effective if it is helping you achieve your goals.
Suggested reading: How To Deal With Urgent VS Important Work Using The Eisenhower Box Matrix
4. Keep your list accessible and visible
Another big mistake most people make in creating a to-do list is that their list is not easily accessible or visible to them.
They write down their to-do list on a piece of paper, and then the next morning when they get up, they forget about their list and they have no idea what they need to get done.
Your to-do list is supposed to be easily accessible so that you can edit the tasks accordingly.
And make sure your list is visible because you want to constantly remind yourself of what you need to do to be more productive.
There is no point to make a to-do list and then forget about what you need to do.
So make your to-do list visible and accessible to you at any time. For myself, I’m still an old-fashioned guy who utilizes on journals and diaries.
I write down my to-do list on my diary each day. If you are good with technology, you can go ahead use an app to do this.
5. Set reminders to trigger you to start work
Sometimes, you really need a reminder to remind you of what you need to do. This is because we are living in a noisy world where we are constantly being distracted.
We all can easily forget the things that we need to do in the next minute. So having a reminder can definitely help you be more productive and get things done.
Of course, you don’t have to set a reminder for all of your tasks, just a few important ones that you think you need to be reminded.
For example, you can set an alarm at 10PM to remind to stop everything you have at hand and prepare yourself to go to bed.
My wife uses an app to remind her to drink water every 2 hours. So she receives a ping every 2 hours. And when she hears the notification, she will just drink water.
Setting reminders can be a very powerful method to make your to-do list effective. Try it out.
6. Reward and celebrate for every task done
I love the quote from Oprah Winfrey:
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
Every time after you have completed a task on your list, make sure you reward and celebrate.
Of course, I’m not asking you to have a party after you get a small task done. All you need to do is acknowledge your hard work, feel proud, and give yourself a pat on the back.
The key is to acknowledge your hard work. You want to make yourself feel good because you have created your wins, no matter how small they are.
This is to maintain your momentum and build up confidence for the rest of your day.
The principle behind is the same as making your bed each morning according to the US Navy Admiral, William McRaven. This is what he said:
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
It may be a small task, but never underestimate its power in creating momentum and making your entire day feels better.
Hence, reward and celebrate your small wins as you complete the tasks on your to-do list.
By the way, make sure you make your bed each morning.
7. Keep your to-do list as simple as possible
You don’t want your to-do list to be complicated. You don’t want to spend an hour to figure out what you need to do next according to your list.
An effective to-do list is a simple list of action commitments that when you take a first glance at the list, you will know what you need to do and by when.
The more complicated the list, the more likely you are going to procrastinate.
You don’t have to make your list colorful or visually impressive. You don’t need a $100 daily planner to be effective.
A to-do list is just a list of things that remind you of what you need to do so that you can move forward and make progress to reach your goals.
When your list is complicated, you increase your chance to procrastinate.
If an app requires you to spend 10 minutes to access your to-do list, don’t use it. Choose to go back to paper and pen.
Of course, some apps and programs like Trello is a great tool that you can try out.
But remember, you want to have a simple to-do list, not the one that requires you to spend 10 hours on learning how to use it.
8. Review your list at the end of the day
At the end of each day or week, you must take some time to review your list and find out if you are making progress to reach your goals.
If you are not, it means that your to-do list is not helping and you need to change your strategy a little.
- Are you feeling overwhelmed that your to-do list has too many things to do?
- Do you schedule 100% of your time that you forget you need time to recharge and rest?
- Do you get things done but you are still not making much progress?
Answering these questions allow you to reflect on what works and what don’t. So that you can create a better to-do list that makes you even more productive and effective.
This is why you need to review your list.
9. Make your to-do list for the following day the night before
If you want your next day to be productive, you must create your to-do list the day before.
The best time to write down what you need to do today is the night before.
This way, you can go to bed feeling that you are ready for what’s coming the next day. And more importantly, when the next day arrives, you know exactly what you need to do.
Jonathan Vieker said in his blog that planning is important, but planning the night before is even better. You can read the article here:
You don’t have to spend time thinking about what to do because you already did that the day before. You can kick-start your day right away.
10. First thing first
In my case, I will schedule, prioritize, and work on my most important task as soon as I start my day.
Some people may think that morning may not be their most motivated time and they prefer to schedule their most important task to a later time.
To be honest, I don’t really agree with that. I believe that if a task is important enough to you, you should stop everything and do it first.
According to the best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, famous author Stephen Covey shared a principle called “First thing first” in the book.
You should do your most high-impact task first. Rather than leaving the task to a later time, do it right away.
If you think that you don’t have the motivation and morning is not your most productive hours, think again.
Like I said, if something is important enough for you, you will do whatever it takes to get it done.
- If you feel sleepy, just get a cup of coffee.
- If you feel tired, change the environment and work somewhere else.
- If you feel like procrastinating, get an accountability partner.
Whatever you do, you must get your most important task done the first thing.
If you push and leave your high-impact work to later the day, you are giving yourself chances to procrastinate and open yourself up for distractions to NOT do the work.
Therefore, stick to the “first thing first” principle. Do your most important work the first thing as you start your day.
“When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” – Kenneth Blanchard
In order to make your to-do list effective, you must always remember why you create the list in the first place.
You must approach it with the right mindset and heart-set.
If your list is working for you, great. Improve it to become even better.
If your list is working against you, review your list and find out what went wrong. Change your strategy so that you can become more effective with your list.
Your to-do list is not supposed to make you feel stressful or feel overwhelmed.
You know that you have an effective to-do list when you look at your list and you are feeling empowered to take action.
And apply the 10 super tips above where you find suitable. I hope these tips are able to help you make a more effective to-do list.
So how do you make your list?