to-do list

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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to-do list

How to make a productive to-do list

Have you been trying to figure out how to make a productive to-do list? Not a busy list but an actual to-do list?

Where does the list come from?

The famous-slash-infamous to-do list that we all face. From our bosses, from our family members, from our other responsibilities, and even from ourselves. Sometimes it can seem endless. For every item you cross off, you discover four more items that you have to add. But here are seven to-do list hacks that could change the way you tackle your chores! Plus sign up below and get the library password to access three free printable to-do lists.

How to make that to-do list more productive for you

7.The art of forgiveness
We need to learn to forgive ourselves for not getting everything done immediately and simultaneously. I am a repeat offender of this myself — thinking that if I just can get more done, I can rest. That’s not how it works. Because guess what? There will always be more. I don’t say that to scare you, I say it to be realistic. So learn to forgive yourself for not getting it all done right now.

6.Not making a list at all
This seems to be the pendulum swing I see most often. That when the list gets too overwhelming, to abandon the idea altogether. My primary reason for loving my to-do lists is that it means I don’t have to remember everything. If I jot it down on the list, it no longer occupies brain space to remember that I have to do it. Think of your grocery list — let’s say on Wednesday you realize you need potatoes but you do your grocery shopping on Saturdays. Would you rather write down potatoes on your grocery list and move about your day, or would you rather spend the four days trying to remember to get potatoes?

5.Delegation is your friend
You don’t have to get it all done by yourself! If your eight-year-old can peel carrots and your ten-year-old can wash and tear up the lettuce, then those are two steps of making dinner that you don’t have to do. The rest of your list can work similarly. Maybe your spouse can swing by a postal drop box on their way to the gas station; maybe a co-worker can

4.Be as specific as you can
Abby offers some terrific to-do list hacks including being specific about your tasks. If something on my list is a larger item to tackle, I like to break it down to smaller tasks. If I don’t finish the entire chore in one day, I might accomplish one or two pieces so that I have made progress. Admittedly, this can make the list look longer, but you can knock out the smaller sub-tasks quicker and get them crossed off.

3.Work smarter, not harder.
In our recent crazy Dallas snow-mageddon, our poor doggie flipped out every time the power would come back on. It was the beeping of the microwave. We tried to reassure her that everything was okay, but then the power would come back on the next time, and the beeping would scare her again. We finally unplugged the microwave. The moral of this story — sometimes the best solution actually is the easiest solution.

2.Busier does not mean more productive
Productive and busy are not interchangeable. This feeds right off of number 3 above. Running around dust all of the flat surfaces in the house, vacuum all of the rugs and carpets, and scrub all of the bathrooms simultaneously means that nothing really gets done and you end up exhausted without actually having accomplished anything. But deciding that you are going to complete one of those chores a day means that you will spend no more than 30 minutes a day and by the end of it, you will have a cleaner house.

1.The NUMBER ONE hack — find a system and stick with it
Moving the list from an electronic format to a physical planner to a pile of sticky notes and miscellaneous notepads means something will get lost in the translation. And not everyone’s system will look the same. Test out ones that appeal to you and stick with the one that will get the job done for you.

Need a more
productive to-do list?

Sign up below for access to the library which includes these terrific printable to-do lists!

(Plus get your productivity hacks too!)

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a to-do list make you more productive?

It certainly can! It helps keep you focused on the things that need to be done so that you can complete them more effectively and more efficiently. And isn’t that the goal?

How do I organize my to-do list?

You can list the tasks and goals by deadline, by priority, by completion time. Any method that works for you. Typically my strategy is a combination of factors. What little things can I knock out quickly? What tasks can I batch together? And don’t forget to check out these great tips including the Eisenhower Matrix.

What is a master to-do list?

In a nutshell, it’s where you keep the everything. And you can make it as detailed or as general as you need.

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