Accomplishing a to-do list is easier said than done. It’s easy to just write a bunch of tasks onto a piece of paper, but it’s not always so easy to check those items off by the end of the day.
Having an unfinished to-do list can feel really lousy, especially for perfectionist and Type A people that tend to place their self-worth on their accomplishments, big and small. You need the right strategy to improve your to-do list and be productive every day.
These are some tips you can use to write a better to-do list that is realistic and easier to accomplish than your typical to-do list that doesn’t get always done.
How to Write an Effective To-Do List
Set an Intention for the Day
Decide what’s important for that day. Everyday is going to be a little different. Some days you’ll feel really motivated and ready to take on the world, other days you’ll need to take things slower.
Check in with your mood and energy level before you make your to-do list.
Are you feeling up to a big project, or do you need to stick to tasks that don’t take a ton of mental or physical energy?
When you’re physically tired you probably shouldn’t put a 10 mile run on your list, and when you’re mentally tired don’t plan to start a complex project that requires a lot of focus.
After checking in to your mood decide what your intention for the day is and go from there.
Keep it Short and Simple
The biggest way to sabotage your productivity is to create a really long to do list and overwhelm yourself.
If your to do list is so long that you feel completing it is impossible from the start then you’re going to kill your motivation. You’ll feel exhausted and defeated before you even get started.
The key to completing your to do list is keeping it short and simple. Don’t put 20 items on your list, limit it to about three. Your first task should be the most important, and if you only got that task done you would still feel good about the day. Then add two more tasks that would be good to get done if you have time after completing your first task.
If you finish your top 3 items and still have time and energy for more, then of course do those tasks. But at the beginning of the day stick with just those 3 tasks. It will keep you from stressing out about having to accomplish a million things each day.
Create a Master To Do List
Now on your daily to-do list you’re going to prioritize your top 3 tasks, but of course we need to keep track of all the other things we have to do too.
Create a master to-do list that is separate from your daily top 3 list. This can have as many items as you like, and you can sort your items by their due dates or priority levels.
It can include things like ‘go to the grocery store’ and ‘write the first chapter of my book.’ There aren’t any limitations on what can go on your master to-do list.
Then you have a handy list to reference when you’re planning your day or week.
And seeing all those tasks begin to get checked off feels so good! Look at you go!
Align Your To Do List With Your Goals
When make your to-do lists it’s good to keep your big goals in mind. Sometimes we get distracted by stuff that doesn’t really get us closer to the big picture results that we want.
A goal and a task on your to-do list aren’t always the same thing, and sometimes we use a to-do list to distract us from our goals because they feel overwhelming.
Maybe your goal is to clear out your attic so you can sell your home in a month, but all of the sudden you just NEED to learn how to knit so your list is ‘buy supplies, watch youtube tutorials, join knitting group, create an Etsy shop to sell knitted hamster sweaters,’ etc.
Learning to knit is fine, but you know you have a bigger priority and this is a distraction.
So look at your goals, then look at what you’ve been prioritizing on your to-do lists and make sure you are taking daily actions that are aligned with your big picture goals and not getting lost in other projects that are taking time from the thing you really need to make progress on.
→ Learn The Right Way to Set Goals
Put Fun Things On Your To Do List
Having balance in your life is important. Many of us are so busy with the hustle and grind or just trying to survive that we don’t take time to care for our mental and physical health. Put self-care on your list as often as you can.
If you’ve been working really hard lately put a self-care activity on you top 3. It can be anything you enjoy doing that helps you release stress.
Some ideas are:
- Taking a long walk in nature.
- Putting on your coziest pajamas and watching your favorite tv show or movie.
- Calling (or Zooming) your best friend for a long chat.
- Making your husband watch the kids and taking a long bath or shower.
- Getting a massage.
- Making a cup of tea and reading a good book.
Or any of these 30 self-care ideas.
Give Yourself a Time Limit
Improve your to-do list and make yourself more productive by giving yourself a time limit. This can work in two ways.
If you have a really time consuming task if can help to break it down into smaller chunks that don’t feel so overwhelming. So if you are cleaning a very messy garage or writing a really long term paper, you would commit to just working on those things for maybe 2 hours with a 15 minute break in the middle on Friday, then another 2 hours on Saturday, and again on Sunday.
This way you make progress but you don’t feel overwhelmed.
However maybe your task doesn’t take a ton of time, but you know that if you give yourself 10 hours you’ll take that much time to do it, even if you could get it done in 3 hours.
If this is the case don’t give yourself a huge window of time. Have a clear start and finish timeline. Put a reminder on your phone, or maybe tell someone you’ll be working on this task at this time, so that you feel accountable.
Make yourself focus on that task until it’s done, instead of spreading it out over more time than it should take.
Have Real Due Dates
Usually unless you’re moving you know that you don’t really have to clean out the garage by next Tuesday, so putting that date on your to do list isn’t that helpful because it’s not a real deadline, and it will get you into the cycle of ignoring real due dates.
You’re brain knows that this task can be put off until the apocalypse and you’re probably going to be inclined to resist it.
So when you add something to your master to-do list don’t put a fake date on it.
A better way to create a timeline for tasks that don’t have a real deadline is to give yourself a specific day and time that you’re going to work on it. So you would put “clean garage on Saturday at 10 am” on your schedule but you aren’t pretending it’s life or death.
This way you have a clear agenda, and while you may not get your task done in one day it’s realistic and gives you momentum. It helps you get one step closer to the completion of your goal.
If you do have a real due date, look at how long the task will take and when it’s due by, and make a realistic plan to get it done in time.