How To Write The Perfect TO DO List

Writing / Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

I just read this article by a LinkedIn influencer who calls the TO DO list an enemy. Rather than posting a fuming message in the comments section, I thought I’d write my own post about how I make my TO DO lists work for me, and how you can too.

In the article, Richard Moran talks about how people keep long things of lists to get done, often mixing big work related projects (eg. Create a social media strategy) with small social commitments (eg. Meeting a friend for coffee). These people then find themselves crossing off the small and fun commitments and never crossing out the daunting difficult ones.

While I agree that this is indeed the case for some people, those who fail to do this are probably one of two kinds:

Non list makers.

Nothing wrong with not being a list maker… but if that’s the case, take Moran’s advice and don’t bother with something that doesn’t work for you.

People who are doing it wrong.

Yeah, I said it. If you are a list maker and you find that your TO DO list never gets completed, you must still be in search of the right strategy to make it work for you.

Trying to master the art of the TO DO list?

Here’s my process!

Tip 1: Keep your timeline simple.

I keep two sets of TO DOs: a short term and a long term. While my long term TO DOs can vary from weekly to monthly, I keep my short term daily/weekly TO DOs handy on my desktop, in my phone, or in a notebook.

Tip 2: Location, location, location.

Write your list somewhere that you will always look.

Both Windows and Mac have built-in versions of digital post-it notes that are great for this.

Sticky Notes for Windows, and Stickies for Mac.

These applications are so easy to use. Simply open a new note and write what you’re looking to remember.

If you’re a Mac user with a few dollars to spend, I would highly recommend Blotter. You can get it for $9.99USD on the app store and I can honestly say this been a life saver for my TO DOs and deadlines. My favourite part of this application is that it is transparent and hovers over your desktop image. Not only is it a calendar that you can sync to iCal so you can see your week at a glance, but it also allows you to set a TO DO list. Bam! Could you ask for anything more?

Tip 3: Separation.

One of the main issues with creating a master TO DO list is that you often lose what is important.

While doing my Bachelor’s degree, I found a solution and it changed my life. Simply separate your tasks!

If you like to keep lists for your the different parts of your life, DO NOT MAKE A MASTER LIST. Instead, separate each part of your life into it’s own, smaller list. This has two major benefits: it allows for better organization and checking one or two things off of a 5 TO DOs list feels much better than off of a 25 TO DOs list.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re like me and have to focus on work, study, and social lives, make 3 lists on 3 separate sticky. Then only include things on that list that pertain to it. For instance, if you have plans to meet for coffee after work or on campus, put that on your social list. If you have task or assignments to work on, put them on your work or school lists.

….have I used the word list enough yet? Does anyone remember what it means?

Tip 4: Break big TO DOs into small tasks.

Doing this saves me so much time and grief when it comes to school and work.

For school: I often break my list up into classes and make myself a list for the week. I look in my syllabi and check what readings I need to do and what assignments to work on. Then I make what I like to call levelled lists.

Here’s an example of a current levelled list I’m working with for a homework deadline.


Readings: 1 2 3 4 5

Homework: make html page DUE SEPT 27

For work: I do the same thing for projects. Here’s an example for a project I’m currently working on.

Write up social media strategy proposal for client

Research for following channels: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Newsletter: What service to use? What to include in newsletter?

I know this can seem overwhelming because your TO DOs get long again. But I promise that there is a certain gratification from being able to have multiple things crossed off of your list, one by one throughout the week rather than it just leaving the larger task there, staring at you until you’ve completed the work.

This is also helpful if you don’t manage to finish your list for the week. Instead of copying a big scary headline to the following week, you can simply carry over the smaller tasks that are left over.

It took me a long time to finally find a system for organising my TO DO lists to make them less daunting and easier to tackle. I have a sick obsession with notebooks and an incessant need for organisation which means I have about 4 notebooks on the go, plus my weekly planner and personal journal.

What works for you when it comes to making lists? Leave a comment and let me know!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *