How-To: Writing a To-Do list that works

1. Split your tasks into categories

Make your to-do list more manageable and easily approachable by organising your tasks into different categories. This will help you organise your thoughts and give you mental clarity at the start of each day. These different categories can have different action points under them that will be ticked off as you work your way through your to-do list. If you want to go a step further, separate different tasks into subsections of smaller lists within larger lists of what needs to be done. For example, if attending a meeting is under the category ” internal business communications,”  have bullet points under that with what needs to be said, acted upon, and agreed during that meeting.

2. Gather similar tasks together

If your working schedule consists of different kinds of projects that require different thought processes and techniques, you can make your life easier by grouping similar tasks together. If you identify your tasks in this way, it’ll be far easier to visually see which tasks are more challenging than others an how many of each kind of task you have. Then, you can get through action points that are easier to complete when you’re taking breaks between larger projects, or at the end of the day when you’re counting the minutes before leaving.

3. Identify the urgency & size of your tasks

You should always be aware of the urgency and the scale of your tasks when you’re drafting a to-do list. If tasks are both serious and urgent, then I’d suggest you add them at the top of your list for the next few days, to ensure that they get completed before their deadline. Similarly, if you’re working on a relatively large project that requires your utmost levels of concentration, then work on it first thing in the morning when you’re more likely to be productive. Alternatively, if you have other productivity spikes throughout the day, make sure to utilise them in the best way possible when dealing with time-sensitive and/or large tasks.

4. Use online planning apps

As satisfying as it is to write a to-do list at the start of each day and to physically tick off tasks along the way, online project management is perfect for visually seeing your tasks and for larger projects that require the contribution of others. One of my favourite websites for tracking my workload online is Trello, which has features that allow you to share project tracking templates amongst colleagues as well. This helps you delegate tasks amongst your team and tag people in action points for when there’s a shared responsibility.

Additionally, online project tracking apps are helpful for keeping yourself accountable to yourself, your team, and your line manager. It visually displays tasks into categories that you’ve created: such as ‘to do,’ ‘in the process,’ ‘waiting for feedback,’ and ‘completed.’

5. Manage your larger projects

Instead of having a large project looking over your whole day, worrying that you might not complete it all- create a different section in your diary for ‘larger/ongoing projects.’ This could either be a section under each day, where you re-write the same task and tick it off so long as you’ve worked on it, or you could have a project column at the start of each week and month. This way, you won’t feel that you’ve failed to complete everything on the day, despite having worked on a project that needs another week to be completed.

6. Be realistic when writing a list

Don’t make a list with 10 tasks that you know you can’t realistically complete in a day. This could have a negative effect of discouraging you from making lists in the future or ‘keeping at it’ because you might worry that you’ll fail to accomplish your future daily tasks.

7. Plan for when things don’t plan out well

If you haven’t completed your list, don’t stress about it, just be prepared for when this happens. Sometimes, other things get in the way of finishing all your tasks on time. By planning alternative solutions – you’ll stay organised and motivated without being upset or frustrated. Make sure you pass tasks onto another day, or the next working day so you know that all your to-do list points will be managed.

8. Don’t stress if your list isn’t completed

It’s okay. There are only so many hours in a day that you could have spent on your tasks and if you haven’t managed completing them, just add a little arrow next to them so you can complete them in the future. I’ve found that it’s best to stay away from crossing things off, or adding an ‘x’ next to tasks, as It could make your list appear negative by the end of the day. Then again, if you’re not that affected by the psychological effects of not completing your tasks, then continue doing what works best for you.

Natasa Christofidou
Natasa Christofidou

Writes articles about customer service and business process outsourcing.