5 hacks to improve your to do list

Having a a to do list is one of the best ways I know to keep myself on track with all of the things I need to do.  It helps me remember things I need to get done today, tomorrow, next week and even next year.  There are many ways to manage a to do list and I think I might have tried all of them.  I tried postit notes, I tried a handwritten list, I tried a calendar, I tried notes on the fridge.  I have finally come up with a system that works for me.  Funnily though it’s not the physical list itself that has been the solution, it’s actually the way I think about my tasks and use the list that has made the biggest change to my ability to get things done.

To do lists

1) Find a system that makes it easy to see what is yet to do and doesn’t require you  to constantly rewrite the list.  I used to have one great big long list for work.  When I wrote it out by hand I would find that items got lost amongst all of the crossing out I did when something was completed.  Of course there was a huge sense of satisfaction when I physically crossed something out but then I found that my list became untidy.  I had trouble seeing what was left to do and of course I was always adding to it.  This meant that I would have to rewrite it often, which really did seem like such a waste of time.

I found a great list app that I began to use.  When each task was completed I would check it off and it would hide out of sight at the bottom.  If I needed to get it back, I could easily find and restore it.  If you’re more of a physical person, postit notes also do this well.  Write one task on each note and throw the note away when the job is complete.  This is nowhere near as portable as a digital list but may work for you.


2) Prioritise your list so that the most important tasks are at the top.  It’s easy to end up with a list of small but unimportant tasks that steal your time and leave you with none left to tackle the large important task that is actually the core business of your job.  We often find ourselves having to take this task home with us because we didn’t have time to get to it during the day.  Prioritise your list so that you complete the more difficult important tasks early in the day when you are fresh.  Finishing one big task will create a much greater sense of satisfaction and allow you to go home without the weight of an unfinished project hanging over your head.


3) Set up your list so that you can finish it in one day.  It is often almost impossible to get to the end of a to do list.  Having a never ending list that is always being added to can be a real energy drain and leave you feeling unfulfilled.  It’s hard to feel as sense of accomplishment over the 20 things you have completed if there are another 45 items still waiting to be done

Creating two lists solves this problem.  The first, my ‘Work 2015’ list is where I record all of the tasks that need to be completed.  All items stay on this list until I move them to the second list, my ‘Work today’ list.  They only get put on the second list if I will complete them that day.  A large task will need to be broken down into smaller parts and then the parts that can be completed in one day are added to the next list.  Sometimes I am over optimistic and I put too many things on today’s list but more often than not I get the balance right.  This means that I have a defined number of tasks to complete in the day and I don’t feel guilty when the end of the working day comes and I am heading home.  I have completed all of my tasks.  Of course, if I finish my list before the work day finishes, I can then consult my other list and choose something from it that I can do before I leave.


4) End the day by setting up tomorrow’s list.  At the end of the day I look at my ‘Work 2015’ list, decide which items I will work on tomorrow, move them over to my ‘Work today’ list and then leave.  Again, I prioritise my list and order the tasks so that the most important activity is right at the top.  When I get to work tomorrow I will start the task at the top before I get called away or distracted by other things.  I will stop working through my list for the urgent things that happen but otherwise I will add to my 2 lists as needed throughout the day so that nothing is forgotten.  Since my list is on my phone it is very easy for me to add to it wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

5) Create lists for all of the important areas of your life.  Having a different list for each area of my life keeps me on track.  Anything that is important could have its own list.  I have- Work 2015, Work today,  Home, Home today, food shopping, children, holiday planning, camping packing list, Christmas presents, you name it, there could be a list for it.

I use exactly the same method for my home to do lists as I do for my work lists. I have one list for all of the tasks (Home) and one for the things I need to do today (Home today).  I think about the best order to complete these tasks and prioritise them.  For example, it makes sense to plan my menus for the week, checking the pantry and freezer for ingredients while I am doing so and writing up my shopping list before I head to the shops.  It I don’t have this spelled out on my to do list I can find myself at the shops with no clear idea about what I already have and what I need to buy.  I finish the day by looking at my lists and moving over to my ‘Home today’ list any items that I need to do tomorrow.

If you are looking for a simple, no frills app, the one I use is Listaryapp.com. I have no affiliation with them, I just find that it suits my style and has everything I need.  One of the benefits of this app includes the ability to share your list with others.  Another app which is simple to use and looks extremely cool is Jamiestodo.  It’s like writing in a pretty notepad with all of the benefits of a digital format.

So, make sure the method you use suits your personal style, put the most important items at the top so they get completed first, use 2 lists instead of 1 to create a sense of accomplishment in completing all of the set tasks, end the day by filling in tomorrow’s to do list and create a new list for each important part of your life.

Do you have a system that works well for you?  We would love you to share your thoughts below.

2 thoughts on “5 hacks to improve your to do list

  1. I have been using Trello for all my lists for work, home, and even party planning! I’m with you that it’s not about the tool. It’s definitely the process and consistency! Love you post and your blog!

    1. Trello looks very interesting. I hadn’t heard of it before but I’m definitely going to try it out. Thank you for your lovely comments about my blog.

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