How to Make the Most of Your To-Do List

Time management isn’t always naturally achievable. That is to say, some people need some help to utilize their time well and help their days become structured. Keeping an organized to-do list can be a great way to become more goal-oriented and develop positive work habits.

However, managing a to-do list isn’t as simple as writing anything down and crossing it off. Sure, it works for some people, but some of us need some help to make the most out of our to-do lists.

That is why we’re here to help you create and manage lists that will really help you.

to-do list

Do To-Do Lists Really Help?

The short answer is – mostly yes. Having a reminder of a meeting, deadline, daily task, etc. is a great way to – you guessed it – remember it. If you aren’t naturally gifted with time management, keeping to-do lists can be a great way to help you organize.

Yet, many people don’t see the usefulness of a to-do list, as they – of course – forget to check them. As with most practice, you’re just implementing, using a to-do list takes some getting used to. Moreover, you may need to adjust the process to your personal needs.

Most often these custom solutions (even if it’s just a minor tweak) are the most effective. The principle stays the same, but you’ll probably need to figure out the how, when, and where. So, let’s figure out how to create a to-do list that fits your needs.

Choose the Medium Wisely

Some people love utilizing technology to create a to-do list. That means using a (most often) mobile app to keep tabs on all their tasks. This is a well-loved method, as most of us have our phones with us at all times. Yet, somehow, apps that contain our to-do lists often remain unchecked for quite some time, which can create problems.

That is why it’s important for you to truly enjoy the app you’re using. Whether it’s the pleasant design, game elements, achievements, useful widgets, or something entirely different, it’s important to be motivated to open the app daily and add and cross off the tasks you’ve finished.

On the other hand, some people enjoy physically writing down their tasks and obligations. The bullet journaling trend has been especially prominent in the last few years. This method allows anyone to create a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly layout and fill them with their tasks, appointments, and business obligations. The charm of bullet journaling lies in the infinite customization options, from the layout to the stationery (often including stickers and washi tape, cause, hey, why not make it fun) you’ll be using.

You should choose the to-do list principle that fits your sensibilities right from the start. This means weighing the pros and cons of both options and choosing the one you prefer.

Repetitive Tasks

Most jobs can be condensed into a finite number of task types. Even though the projects change, there are some common steps for all of them. Your chosen to do list method should allow you to mark or group or mark these steps so you are prepared for your daily tasks at a glance.

Don’t Limit Yourself to a Single List

Creating one big list that contains all the tasks you’ll be tackling shortly isn’t the best way to handle things. This is especially important if you use a to-do list for work purposes. Having shopping items pop up between your work tasks is likely to break your concentration or confuse you. On the other hand, those leeks will be forgotten in the noise of chores, weekends, and vacation plans.

That is to say, create as many lists as you need. Some will inevitably fall off and or wait for a while to be used. However, their content won’t distract you from everyday tasks. here are some list examples that aren’t work-related:

  • Long-term plans
  • Vacation ideas
  • Shopping items
  • Renovation or decoration plans
  • Saving plans

Don’t Wait to Make an Entry

Our memory can be extremely fleeting. This is often the reason to make a to do list in the first place. Additionally, if you write something down you probably won’t take too much time to go through with it. that is to say, to do lists are also accountability reminders and can make our brains more aware of our tasks after simply writing them down.

This means you should have your list by your side at all times (which brings us back to the first point as well), and write things down in it as soon as they cross your mind.

Don’t Leave Open Ends

Sometimes simply writing your list down isn’t enough to produce a sense of urgency. An impending deadline is often a great motivator as well as a reminder.

Adding a due date to your plans will give you an estimate of how your day, week, or month will go too. This will give you an opportunity to assess if you’re able to manage all your tasks, or need to make adjustments and postpone some of the to do list items.

Actually Read the Lists

As we have previously mentioned, just writing a task down will make you more aware of it. Yet, it isn’t enough to prevent you from forgetting altogether.

To put it simply, you will need to look into your list daily to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. This will also help you prioritize more efficiently and organize your time up ahead.

Keep the Daily List Short

Even though your to do list should contain all the tasks you can think of, your short-term assignments shouldn’t be numerous. That is to say, besides simply adding due dates to your lists, you need to be conscious of them.

Not checking the due dates could make you overburden yourself with tasks on a specific day or week. You should strive to match the number and nature of your tasks to your available time and energy. If you don’t do this, you can find yourself in the situation of needing more time and postponing your tasks for the next day or week, adding more weight to the future. And this is a cycle that may be impossible to escape.

Learn the Difference Between Goals and Tasks

A to do list should contain tasks and not goals. Tasks represent specific actions you can take. They can be done in a certain amount of time, and you can do them with the knowledge and resources you have on your hands already.

Goals, on the other hand, are long-term objectives that require you to complete specific tasks. They also often contain specific milestones you can also confuse for tasks. Here’s an example

Your goal is to publish a scientific paper. Your milestones are researching, writing the paper, revising it, and sending it to the publisher. Your daily to do list task can be “read I. Berenstine chapters 1-4”.

Give Yourself a Sense of Accomplishment

The biggest appeal of to do lists is the sense of accomplishment after a completed task. In other words, you should cross off the tasks you’ve completed and watch the list become physically shorter. These moments shouldn’t be taken for granted, as they represent your hard work. Crossing off an item from your list means you’ve invested your time into something and the effort you’ve put in has resulted in something constructive. It is visual proof of your time not being wasted.

To-Don’t Lists

A to do list is a useful tool for anyone. Yet, the busiest and most responsible individuals can feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks they have ahead of them. That is why we recommend looking into something a little different – a to-don’t list. These lists are especially important for managers, business owners, and other higher-ups.

To-don’t lists contain all the tasks you can safely take off your plate. Whether they’re completely avoidable or not depends on the tasks themselves. The solution to not having to do them day in and day out is either scrapping them altogether or delegating them to a different team member.

What Goes in a To-Don’t List?

We can’t give you a universal answer. Your to-don’t list depends on the type of work you do as well as what mundane tasks take up a lot of your time or give you little to no reward. If you are still unsure, you can conduct a time audit.

A time audit relies on tracking your time meticulously for a certain period. It should be personal, and you should be absolutely honest. This way you’ll see where your time goes, and prioritize the activities you usually do.

The Difference Between a To Do and a To-Don’t List

A to-don’t list doesn’t only have to contain specific tasks. Moreover, it should contain statements to ground you and help you organize your time more efficiently. For example, you can put “Take my time when accepting or rejecting a request”. This way you’ll have more time to look through your tasks for the time frame the request would take. If you have the time, energy, and resources to accept the request – do so. If one or more of the elements are lacking, you can schedule the request for a later date or reject it, depending on other factors.

The Goal of a To-Don’t List

While a to do list will help you become more organized and remember your tasks, a to-don’t list has a more general goal. It helps you develop positive work and interpersonal habits in the workspace.

For example, many people have trouble saying No to their coworkers. This often leaves them overwhelmed with work and approaching burnout. A to-don’t list will help you remember your time is equally as important as anyone else’s. this means you don’t have to jump into all the projects your coworkers can’t handle.

On the other hand, you can identify your own time-wasting habits and nip them in the bud. We’re not saying you should absolutely never check social media or take a breather, but limiting your distractions and using that time constructively is never a bad idea.

Keeping a Done List

A done got done, or to-done list contains all your finished tasks and projects. The goal of these lists is to give you a sense of accomplishment. We’ve recommended crossing off the finished items from your to do list. However, this only makes your finished tasks disappear. If you keep a done list as well, you can see and organize these tasks to show you the experience you’ve accumulated during your career.

The main reason most people keep done lists is to be able to appreciate their work in hindsight. We often get carried away in the tide of current tasks and problems. In these cases, we tend to minimize our work and get fairly pessimistic about it. However, a growing portfolio of successfully completed tasks can keep us motivated, as it doesn’t allow us to minimize our impact on the business.

Entries of a done list can contain as much information as you want them to. that is to say, you can use them as a nice reminder of your hard work, or as a map to different projects that will help you find past solutions and applications of skills.

To Conclude

Lists can be a great time management addition to our everyday routines. Especially so if you learn how to keep them efficiently and update them regularly. However, the way you keep your lists isn’t set in stone. They can be as simple or complex as you need them to be. The medium and method of writing tasks down are completely up to you.

That is to say, a to do list (and its to-don’t and to-done counterparts) can and should reflect your preferred work methods. There are some basic rules, but your list is individual and should suit the person it serves. We hope we have given you a good introduction to using to do lists.

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