How to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective

How to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective

Do you find it difficult to manage all the items on your to-do list?

Looking for a few ways to streamline your list and make it more manageable?

While to-do lists are useful tools, it’s important to understand what should, and what shouldn’t go on your list.

In this post, I offer several ways to make your to-do lists more effective when it comes to getting things done, each and every day.


Remove outdated items.

While “Replace lightbulb on lamp,” is a perfectly reasonable to-do, it’s not so reasonable when you got rid of said lamp at the recycling center two weeks ago.

Avoid weighing yourself down with to-dos from days, week, or months past.

If something is no longer relevant to your life, remove it!

Take a moment now to look at your to-do list.

Which items are leftovers from a previous project, class, situation, relationship, or trip?

Which items do not add value to your current projects or lifestyle?

Start your to-dos with verbs.

Want to make your to-dos super-specific and action-packed? Start off your to-do list items with   verbs! You’ll know exactly what you need to do when it comes to performing or completing a task. Your list items will be both detailed and concise. So, instead of using single words for list items, such as “Cellphone,” “Purse,” and “Sandwich,” you’d rewrite your list to read, “Charge cellphone,” “Declutter purse,” and “Make sandwich.”

Group similar tasks together.

Make the most of your minutes by organizing similar tasks together. You’ll be able to tackle these items in rapid succession, as opposed to stopping and changing tasks every several minutes. This method also makes it easier to schedule your day in chunks. How so? Well, you can perform similar tasks in a specific location, for a specific period of time. For example, if you need to make a bunch of phone calls, and will be busy traveling in the afternoon, why make those phone calls in the morning, one after the other?

Keep current and future to-dos separate.

While buying a present for your brother’s birthday in June is an important to-do, you don’t have to keep the to-do on your list until summertime comes along. Consider separating your current and future to-dos from one another. You can write separate future to-do lists based on the seasons, quarters of the year, or any chunk of time of your liking. You’ll be able to better focus on what’s required of you today, without having to worry about the future.

Add in a few personal to-dos.

Who says to-do lists have to be serious? Add a bit of pep to your day by sprinkling in a few personal, and enjoyable to-dos. These could be fun treats or breaks to liven up your day, dates with friends and family, or just doing something special for yourself. Who knows, seeing “Treat myself to a cinnamon dolce latte,” and “Watch The Walking Dead” on your list might give you the motivation and encouragement you need to finish up your other to-dos!

Make to-do lists for specific projects.

Instead of creating a giant to-do list with all of your personal and professional commitments, try making smaller, specific lists for projects or assignments. This will help you focus your mind and attention on what you’re doing at any particular point in time. If you’re getting ready for an upcoming business trip, you could prepare a list of everything related to the trip, such as: pack clothes and toiletries, prepare travel documents, finalize presentation, print handouts, and so on.

Create to-dos that can be completed in a single sitting.

Let’s face it, “Write my book,” is a daunting to-do list item! That same task, however, can be made more manageable by simply breaking it down into smaller components. Try writing your to-dos as small, achievable tasks that can actually be completed in a single sitting. So, if you want to work on your novel, you might add to your list, “Write for one full hour,” or “Edit page 72”. Where in your to-do lists can you break up larger tasks into smaller ones?

Prepare your to-do list for tomorrow, today.

Does it seem as if you are always behind in the morning when it comes to your to-dos? If so, you may want to try creating your daily to-do lists the day before. If you’ve never tried this, you should definitely give it a go! Doing so allows you to plan your days in advance with a calm and relaxed mind. What’s more, when the morning comes around, all you have to do is open up your list and get started on your tasks! If you are unable to create your to-do list the day before, try preparing it first thing in the morning before you check email, voicemail, or start your day’s work in earnest. Ask yourself: what needs to get done today?

Say goodbye to some to-dos.

Have you had a non-urgent to-do sitting on your list for weeks, months…perhaps even years? It might be time to let the to-do go. Sure, you may have had every intention of getting that non-urgent thing done, but at the moment, it’s just not happening. Why make a fuss about it? It is perfectly alright to let the to-do go if it is causing you undue stress and discomfort. If the to-do really is something you want to complete, or must get done, it will get done. If not, no big deal. Remember that!

Only write to-do list items on your to-do lists.

Keep things streamlined at home, work, and school by keeping your to-do lists and notes separate from one another. It can be downright distracting to look at a to-do list that is full of ideas, thoughts, and other information. Find a safe storage location for your notes, such as a notebook, text editor, or other note taking app on your computer, tablet, or smart phone. Let your to-do list be a to-do list; nothing more and nothing less.

How about you? Where could you trim the fat in your to-do lists? Which of these tips are you going to try out for yourself? Join in the conversation and leave a comment below!

A version of this post appeared on the blog in 2015.

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.