top 7 to-do list strategies

To-do List Strategies – the top 7 tips

Did you know that there are to-do list strategies than can actually make your list easier to tackle? There are! Read below for the top seven tips for making the most of your own to-do list.

“Plan your work for today and every day, and work that plan.”

Margaret Thatcher

Most of us know what a ‘to do list’ is and yet, the majority of people don’t use one and prefer to work from memory. They have a jumbled list of tasks in their mind and get these done in a haphazard and almost always, inefficient manner.

  1. Have a to-do list
    The first and most obvious strategy is to have a to-do list to actually follow. The best way to go about creating one will be to do a brain dump on paper of ALL the tasks and commitments you need to get done. This is an almost cathartic process that will bring you relief while it frees up mental energy.
  2. Prioritize
    The next step will be to use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize your tasks. Check out the image below in the FAQ section for more information on this prioritization grid.
  3. Focus
    Once you have your to do list prioritized, the next step will be to focus on ONE task at a time. Avoid multitasking at all cost. It ruins one’s ability to concentrate and also leads to shoddy work. Take each task to completion before moving on to the next. This is such a simple rule, but people overcomplicate things by not adhering to it.
  4. Limit your to-do list
    Ideally, you shouldn’t have more than 7 items on your to do list. Break the list up into 2 parts. At the top, have all the most important tasks which will yield the highest rate of return in your life. At the bottom will usually be the mundane, routine chores that need to get done just to keep life normal… but don’t really yield much reward. Trying to do too much in any one day can be overwhelming. So, it’s better to have a shorter to-do list, and if you complete all the tasks for that day fast, you can add a few more from your ‘brain dump’ list and work on them.
  5. Plan the night before
    Create your to-do list the night before. This will ensure that you hit the ground running the next day instead of spending your most alert hours in the morning planning what to do.
  6. Break down bigger tasks
    Some tasks are too big to complete in one day. So, while they may be on your to-do list, you’re not going to be able to finish it all on that day.
    In instances like these, it’s best to write down that task on a separate sheet of paper and break it down into smaller tasks and create a checklist for the work process. Each day, you’ll work on one or a few steps in that checklist.
    These are the steps that will go on your to-do list daily… and NOT the huge, monumental task. Always remember to break it down into bite-sized pieces.
  7. Carry over tasks
    Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there will be some tasks that you just can’t complete in time. No worries. This happens.
    Just move them to the next day… BUT do NOT add them on to a list that’s already full. Instead, make them part of the list of 7 or so tasks that you need to complete.
    In this way, you’ll not have a growing list of things that need to get done that keeps getting longer by the day. Always aim to have only 3-7 items on your to -do list.

So how do you make the most of these to-do list strategies?

Always remember to delegate and automate where you can. The hard truth is that you’ll NEVER have time to do it all. Tasks and commitments will keep popping up daily. The best way to maintain control of things will be to delegate or outsource the less important tasks to others.

Sometimes you’ll save more money by hiring someone. For example, instead of spending 45 minutes to mow your lawn, you’d be better off paying a lawn mowing service to do it for you. You’ll not only save time and free it up for important tasks that matter… but the lawn mowing company will probably complete the chore in a faster time and do a better job than you – because that’s what they do.

In the same vein, automate your routine tasks whenever you can or hire out the repetitive tasks that are essential to your business, but don’t require your direct involvement.

Use the to-do list strategies in this article to create to do lists that will organize your life and also help you get the most done in the time that you have. For a few more to-do list hacks, check out this list too!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the 1-3-5 rule?

The basic 135 rule is this — to accept that you can’t finish an unlimited number of things in any given day. But you can reasonably expect to finish 1 BIG thing, 3 MEDIUM things, and 5 SMALL things.

What is the Eisenhower Matrix?

You may have seen the Eisenhower Matrix before but not realized what it was actually called. It’s a tool used to prioritize your to-do list. (Yes, President Eisenhower himself did develop the concept that later became the Eisenhower Matrix.)

to-do list strategies - Eisenhower Matrix

What are some other good strategies for making a to-do list?

I did want to point out that you don’t have to choose either paper planning or electronic planning. In fact, I usually use a combination of both. Sometimes it’s just easier to use a combination depending on what list I’m working on.

I also recommend keeping at least a scratch pad nearby so you can write things down as soon as you think of them. The whole point of a to-do list is so that you don’t have to keep everything in your poor overworked brain!

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