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7 Simple Steps to Writing the Ultimate To-Do List

Published by Nicolas Straut on
7 Simple Steps to Writing the Ultimate To-Do List

In today’s busy world that demands so much, it’s easy to get bogged down by responsibilities. From projects at work or school, chores at home, to necessities like exercise or doctor appointments, it’s easy to let responsibilities slip by or forget what needs to be prioritized. Fortunately, the best way to track all of these important tasks is also the simplest: to-do lists.

The to-do list is the best way to stay on top of what needs to be done because of the ability to rank tasks by importance and simply check off completed tasks and see what’s left. While it’s easy enough to write a to-do list, it’s important to be aware of tips that can help you write the best list possible and be your most productive self. Here are the most important steps to get started:

Write your to-do list first thing in the morning

Your to-do list will be most effective if it includes all of the most important tasks you need to complete over the course of your day. Writing your list first thing in the morning will also allow you to map out your day and strategize. Setting a reminder on your calendar or phone to write the to-do list or making a ritual of it by putting it together when you have your morning coffee will help you get into this positive habit.

Stick with the six most important tasks on your list

With all of the things that need to be done, you might be tempted to list every task you can think of on your to-do list. Doing this runs counter to the wisdom of Ivy Lee, a 20th century productivity expert, who popularized the to-do list as a productivity tool but recommended only listing six tasks to not overwhelm yourself and allow yourself to concentrate on top priorities.

To limit yourself to six items, think through what absolutely needs to be done today and write the excess tasks down for tomorrow or the next day.

Order tasks on your to-do list whichever way will help you most

As you think through what six things should be included on your list, consider the order these items should be listed. Some prefer listing items in the order they need to completed over the course of the day, by the importance of tasks, or even by the ease of tasks (to knock off the easy ones first). I prefer listing tasks in the order that they need to be completed but to each their own!

Keep it simple and don’t over complicate your to-do list

Simplifying tasks on your list by not including excessive details will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed as you work through what needs to get done. For example, listing “create mockup for XYZ client” will be far easier to list and check off once completed than a paragraph about the mockup + client requirements. Keeping your to-do list and notes separate will help you maintain an uncomplicated list that’s easy to read and complete.

Try to complete tasks on your list by end-of-day

Listing six items on your to-do list and committing to completing them by end of day will help you plan out your day and execute with an idea of how your day will be structured. It will take practice to get into the swing of completing every task on your simple list and being picky about what’s most important to accomplish but you’ll learn with time.

When I write my daily to-do list, I usually list four work items that need to get done and two personal items. The goal shouldn’t be to list everything you’ll do over the course of the day including simple items you would do anyway but the tasks that you might not complete otherwise. For example, I know I’ll iron my clothes for the next day but I don’t know if I’ll remember to send that important report to Linda in operations.

If you can’t complete tasks on your to-do list, carry them into the next day

Though we might try to get all of our tasks done by the end of each day, sometimes life gets in the way or tasks turn out to be more complicated than expected. When this happens, don’t agonize and attempt to stay up late just to complete your list, simply add the task to tomorrow’s list and resolve to complete it then. With time you’ll learn your capacity to complete your to-do list, absent unexpected complications.

Reflect on your accomplishments

Knocking tasks on your to-do list day-in-and-day-out is quite the accomplishment but you can begin to be burned out if you don’t take the proper amount of time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Setting aside time, even once a month, to take stock on all that you’ve done done is important to ward off burnout. Keeping track of your finished to-do lists, whether you keep them in a notebook, folder, or in an app like Ivy that will automatically save your completed lists, will help you to look back on how productive you’ve been.

Well there you have it - the seven simple steps to writing an excellent to-do list that will keep you productive despite your busy schedule. Though they might seem basic, to-do lists will be a huge help in getting your life organized and ward off undue stress.

Take the first plunge tomorrow morning and write a to-do list according to the steps above and you’ll see a change in how you tackle your day immediately if you’re diligent and stay on track.


Nicolas is a Brooklyn-based content strategist at Intrepid SEO, a marketing agency. In his free time, he enjoys running, reading, and learning new productivity hacks that will help him accomplish more.

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