How to Become Successful Making a Better To-Do List

Interested in being more productive and managing your time more effectively?

It turns out that better task and time management rely not on fancy plans, apps or systems, necessarily, but on a better to-do list. So instead of seeking a better productivity method, spend some quality time with your to-do list.

Setting Up Your Better Task List

Before you start tweaking how you work with your list, spend a few moments thinking about how you keep your list.

You’ve got lots of options, both paper, and app-based. Which one is better? Here’s the secret: That’s the wrong question. Both kinds of lists can work — just like any diet can work.

The one that’s best for you is the one you’re going to actually use, so…

  • If you “go digital,” then plan to spend some time – but not too much time – actually using the app.
  • If you stick with paper, then pick a notebook or paper type that looks and feels good when you write on it.

It might seem as if looks shouldn’t matter — but the simple truth is that appearance and tactile sensation can motivate us to use the app or notebook more consistently. And that’s the fundamental key to a better task list.

Working With Your List

Once you choose your method, move on to improving how you work with your list the following tips.

  • Distinguish between tasks, projects, and goals. Tasks are one-action items. Projects are collections of tasks. Goals are objectives you want to meet or challenges you’ve set for yourself. For each goal, you might have several projects and many more tasks. Only tasks go on your task list.
  • Good tasks start with verbs. Examples: “Write draft of business plan,” “Buy office supplies,” “Call client.”
  • Make sure you’ve committed to each task on your list. Don’t put anything on your list that would be better qualified as a “Maybe,” or “Someday, if I think about it.”
  • Only keep one list for tasks. Forget the collection of sticky notes on your desk, plus the small pocket notebook in your purse, plus the big fancy day planner at the office. Combine them all into one list. If there are other items you’d like to preserve in the list form (your “maybes,” your active projects), use separate lists.
  • Choose one way to organize your list. You can do this by “context” (the tools and/or space you need to perform the task) or by due date or by priority. The choice is yours, so make sure the organization method makes sense to you.
  • Every morning, choose no more than three items from your list to work on. These are your “must-dos.” If you get more than that done, great – but you want to focus on that shorter three-item list first!

Managing Your New and Improved List

The single best thing you can do with your new and improved task list is to incorporate it into a consistent review/preview process.

Also, give some thought to tracking how long an item has been on your list. When a specific task keeps getting rolled over into a new week, week after week, it might be a sign that you need to revisit that item and check in with yourself about it. Is it still a commitment for you? Was it ever? Was it really more of a “Someday I might?” Is it a task at all? Maybe it’s really a project? Or maybe you don’t yet have what you need to complete the task properly?

Finally, be flexible! It’s important that any productivity tool, be it a calendar or a task list or a project scheduler continues to be responsive to your needs will evolve and change over time. So it stands to reason that what used to work for you years ago may not work so well now. Be willing to re-evaluate and try a different approach.