9 To-Do List Tips to Maximize Productivity

by | Jan 28, 2021 | Blog

Creating a to-do list doesn’t seem like it would be a complicated job; it’s literally writing down tasks you plan to do that day. The problem is, you’re busy, there are always unexpected projects or meetings that pop-up, and those few tasks you wrote down can quickly turn into a mile-long list. You started your day with a plan, and now that most of your day has completely been rearranged, you sit down and try to spend your remaining time catching up on the to-dos you never had the time to pursue.

Once this happens, that simple to-do list that started your day has become overwhelming, drains your motivation, and leaves you feeling unfilled. This begs the question, is your to-do list serving you or keeping you at its mercy?

The Problem With To-Do Lists

You read that right. A lot of to-do lists are full of problems. You might be thinking, how can a list of tasks you need to get done be problematic? Well, the simple answer is the tasks themselves.

Take a moment to think about when you created your last to-do list. Did you have enough time to put thought into it, or were you writing down your tasks during your last few minutes of the day before you leave the office to pick your child up for baseball practice?

When you are distracted, it’s easy to forget tasks on your list. Or maybe you don’t have time to think about how much you can actually do in a day, so you write down every task you know you need to complete and tell yourself you’ll sort through it tomorrow. Without even realizing it, you’ve already set yourself up for failure.

The good news is, creating a productive to-do list is something easily learned and doesn’t take a bunch of time to create. Even the busiest people can do this every day.

Components Of A Self-Serving To-Do List

When you look at your to-do list in the morning, it shouldn’t fill you with dread. Instead, it should motivate you to get things done. For a to-do list to be less negative and more motivational, it should:

Be Balanced

We all have tasks we love and hate and tasks that are more important than others. This is where balance comes into play. Make sure you include all of these types of tasks on your daily list for more balanced and productive days.

Leave You Feeling Fulfilled

We all love to feel productive at the end of the day, but with an overwhelming to-do list, you will never get the feeling of accomplishment you expect. The best way to end your day feeling fulfilled is to limit the number of tasks on your list.

Be Achievable

If you constantly have to move tasks over to the next day, your to-do list is working against you. Maybe your tasks were too broad to complete in one day, so break those tasks down into actionable steps and include those instead.

Give You Enough Flexibility

Things happen, meetings run late, you’re waiting on a piece of information before you can move forward, and so much more can happen in a day. That’s why your to-do list must be flexible enough to ride the wave of uncertainty. Including a back-up plan if a task falls through or a list of people you can reach out to for help will help you stay on track.

How To Create A Productive To-Do List

If you’re ready to actually get things done instead of just creating a never-ending list, here are the things you need to know and do:

Pick Your Medium

There is no “right” medium to use when you create your to-do list. There are a number of apps that include built-in reminder and several other features, you could use the trusty pen and paper method, or maybe you have a whiteboard for your list. It doesn’t matter what you chose, just pick the method that works best for you.

Use More Than One List

Like we said above, a common problem with to-do lists is the number of tasks on that list. But, another problem is, you have a lot to do, and you don’t want to forget, so you include it all. Creating more than one list can solve that problem. Consider creating these lists:

  • Master list: Use this list for ALL of your tasks, projects, and more. This list would also be more beneficial if you include basic details, project deadlines, and contacts for each task.
  • Weekly list: Go through the master list and create a list of projects based on deadline and availability that you can or need to complete that week.
  • Daily list: Use your weekly list to plan your day, but don’t forget the reoccurring tasks, low-impact tasks, meetings, and more.
  • Know Your Limits

    You might be wondering what the magic number is for the amount of tasks you should include on your list, but sadly we can’t answer that for you. But you can figure out what your magic number is. Some jobs require a lot of flexibility, have unexpected meetings, or surprise projects can pop-up. Other jobs are very repetitive, have little change, and are easy to plan. The best way to determine what you can accomplish in a day is to actually pay attention to all that you do. A time audit will help you better understand your day and how much time you have for projects and reoccurring tasks.

    Structure Your To-Dos

    Structure your to-do list from most-important tasks to least-important. Since you can’t perfectly plan out your day, knowing what you have to get done and what can wait a day will help you feel less overwhelmed without losing the feeling of accomplishment.

    Be Specific

    Writing out a vague task like, ‘work on market research,’ can feel good enough the night before, but the next day you might feel puzzled on where to begin. For every task, include important details, contacts, deadlines, and information to get you started. You’ll spend less time trying to figure it out and more time getting it done.

    Include Buffers

    You likely have a general idea of how long a project will take you to complete, but sometimes there is a tiny wrench that can throw off your day — plan for those little wrenches by including buffers. If you think a project can be completed in an hour, plan for more. It’s better to expect the unexpected than to feel constantly behind. And if you don’t need that extra time, consider yourself ahead.

    Keep Your Goals Separate

    It is important to regularly see your goals, but including them on your daily to-do list can be more stressful than impactful. Your goals are typically large projects that require a lot of time to complete. Since you can’t check it off in a day, leave it on your master list. If you want to keep your goals visible, write them down and post them somewhere on your desk.

    Format Matters

    Even though you should include details for your tasks, you shouldn’t create long paragraphs of information. The format goal for a to-do list is to be scannable. To achieve this, consider making your task title a larger, bold, or a different color than the description. Create a short bullet point list for the details underneath and highlight the deadline.

    Figure Out What Works For You

    You know your day better than we do, so it’s best to try a variety of things to find out what works best for you. Maybe you try this for a week and find out you don’t need all of the details, don’t spend your time writing them out and focus on something else. Or maybe you find you need your to-do list to work more like a schedule with hourly reminders. It’s okay. Find out what works for you and stick with it.

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