4 Tips for Creating an Effective To-Do List

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Are you overwhelmed with all of the things you have to complete before the end of the work day? If you find yourself crushed under the weight of the tasks you have to complete for the day, one way to stay organized is to create a to-do list. A thorough list will help you stay focused and get through your projects quickly and with a bit less stress. Here are four tips for creating a to-do list that sticks.


1. Be realistic

Don’t list items that you know will take a significantly long time to complete if you are short on time. Only include tasks that you can complete in the amount of time you have available. This will reduce feelings of frustration when you don’t meet your goal. Approaching your list the wrong way could actually have the opposite effect and cause you to put things off.

“The wrong type of list can be de-motivating, causing you to slack off and procrastinate…anyone can write a list…part of our ‘to-do list problem’ stems from a concept called the ‘hot-cold empathy gap. Put simply, it’s easy to forget about the action part when making lists. We all make those promises (like the classic ‘New Year’s  resolution’) that simply can’t be completed on a day-to-day basis. In other words, it’s one thing to create a lengthy list, but it’s a whole other thing to complete tasks when where’re faced with dozens of distractions,” said S.J. Scott in To-Do List Makeover: A Simple Guide to Getting the Important Things Done.  


2. Plan ahead

Have your goal in mind before you develop a list. What is the most important thing you need to accomplish today? Only focus on those items so that you can avoid wasting time. After you’ve prioritized your goals, arrange them in order of least pleasant to most pleasant task. Completing the harder tasks first will ensure you devote most of your energy there. The more pleasant tasks usually require a bit less focus and energy since you’ll already be interested in the task at hand. Also plan for the possibility that your day may not go as planned. Things may come up that can turn your whole day upside down and require that you change your plans.

3. Schedule breaks

Stretching at work, office

Source: iStock

Make sure to schedule some down time in your day. Working straight through the day without sufficient breaks will wear you down and tire you out. This is a sure way to burn out before the week is over. Take care of yourself and take time to breathe and relax. Also make time to eat a healthy lunch.

“The practice of extreme self-care forces us to make choices and decisions that honor and reflect the true nature of our soul. While the whole notion of this might seem selfish or self-centered, doing so actually allows us to make our greatest contributions to the world,” said Cheryl Richardson in The Art of Extreme Self-Care.


4. Stay focused

It’s easy to get off track when there are tons of distractions around you. Remove any distractions (such as a chatty co-worker) so you can think and get your work done. Resist the temptation to put things off that can be done right now. No matter how much you delay your task, it will still be there, waiting for you, until you get it done. When you don’t address procrastination, it will become a habit and may start to get out of hand. Consequently, your to-do list will start to get bogged down with tasks you should have completed days ago.

“Looking back, it’s obvious procrastination has been a lifelong companion of mine. It’s always been easy to find other things to blame. But digging deep down unearths the truth–I put things off that I really should do. And in doing so, my to-do list gets out of control,” said Glynnis Whiwer in Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day.

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