How to Write a More Effective To-Do List
If you hardly ever get through your daily list, these hints may help.
Pick the right platform. If you love using Post-its, planners, or notebooks because crossing something off in pen feels cathartic, go for it. But there are helpful apps, including Evernote and Wunderlist. One benefit of using something digital, like those apps or even the calendar on your phone, is that you can easily organize by color (i.e. red for your personal tasks, purple for your work tasks) and schedule recurring tasks (take out the recycling every Tuesday, wash the towels every other Wednesday).
Write it the night before. It's smart to do this in case you have something early planned the next day—like a dentist's appointment—that you might have otherwise forgotten. This approach allows you to hit the ground running when you wake up.
Keep it short. "Put only five entries on any list. You can count them on one hand, you can attain them in a day, and it's not overwhelming to review. When you finish those five, you'll feel accomplished and will have the inspiration to succeed again tomorrow," says Jennifer Ryan, an organizer with Create New Order in New York City.
Prioritize. Put the most important or urgent task first, even if it's the one that you least want to do. To go a step further, schedule tasks. A loose strategy: Create one or two "morning tasks," one or two "afternoon tasks," and maybe even one or two "evening tasks." A strict strategy: Assign each task to a specific time slot on your calendar (like 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.). This is particularly useful if you know how long each task will take.
Make tasks small and achievable. "Eliminate vague words like 'plan,' 'implement,' and 'develop.' Instead, use specific and actionable verbs, such as 'call,' 'write,' and 'email,' so you know exactly what to do in the moment," says Maura Thomas, who lives in Austin, Texas, and is the founder of RegainYourTime.com and the author of Personal Productivity Secrets. While you’re at it, split large tasks into doable chunks. If you want to, say, plan a birthday party, don't make "plan birthday party" one task. Turn it into a bunch of little tasks (make guest list, create and send e-invitation, order decorations) and assign each one to one day of the week.
Don't forget self-care. "Some things that I add to my to-do list are meditation and exercise, which help me maintain a strong work-life balance," says Amanda Stemen, the creator and owner of FUNdaMENTALs, a psychotherapy, coaching, and consulting organization in Los Angeles, California. Plus, scheduling in time to exercise like you would any other appointment could help you stick to your workout goals.
De-clutter. Anza Goodbar, a certified life coach in Denver, Colorado, recommends trying the following: If there are tasks that never get completed, ask yourself, Can I delegate this or delete it? If cleaning the house once a week is stressing you out, consider doing it every other week or figuring out if there’s room in your budget to hire a cleaning company.
Don’t feel bad about putting something that takes two minutes on it. The sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing something off may motivate you to tackle the rest.