Creating the Best To-do Lists

The to-do list you create can make or break your productivity. Long to-do lists can make the amount of work you have to do seem very daunting. Likewise, you might feel disempowered by your lengthy list of things-to-do. However, a short, prioritized, to-do list can ensure you feel motivated enough to complete all you have set out to complete. 

Consequently, when you do not organize your to-do list you put yourself at the mercy of fate. Whatever tasks come up, you do. Leading to being disorganized and ineffective.

The importance of your to-do list

Creating a to-do list is a great way to stay organized and keep you on track. Many things have to be remembered. And creating a to-do list is the best way to ensure the important items are completed. 

Have you ever thought to yourself “Oh crap I forgot that?” Perhaps, at the last minute, you kicked yourself for forgetting until the last minute the thing that you had to do today. Nonetheless, a to-do list can help keep you organized and make sure that you do not forget the important must-dos!

A to-do list can help you organize what tasks need to be a priority.

Pick your to-do list vehicle

Imagine you are picking out a car. You want to know the best one for your situation. But, you might feel like picking a medium for your to-do list is much like picking the right car– time consuming and exhausting. Some people (myself included) have spent hours looking for the best format for their to-do list. Your time is precious do not waste it spending too much time finding the perfect app, or template. To clarify, spending too much time picking out the best app/ best method can ruin your productivity. 

The most important thing when looking for your vehicle is how your list makes you feel. Does the app make you feel organized and motivated? Or does your current method leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless? Picking the vehicle that feels good is the most important step. Nevertheless, pick a vehicle and test it out. It’s not a life long commitment. 

I love pen and paper for my daily to-dos and an electronic master list. At the present moment, I still have not found the perfect app or method for creating a to-do list.

Therefore, your best chance is to start with one thing and test it out. Then, ask yourself these four questions:

Questions to Ask:

  1. Did I complete everything I set out to do today?
  2. Did my vehicle inspire me to work more?
  3. How did I feel checking things off using my chosen method make me feel good?
  4. Am I organized enough that I can visualize the completion of my next steps? 

Answering these questions will help you know if the chosen method is the best fit. 

In this article, you can see how some very successful people create their to-do list. In short, every person has a method that works best for them. As a result, finding your best method will require testing methods out.

Learning the difference between long-term and short-term goals

There is a difference between short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals can get you closer to long term goals. Also, short-term goals help you stay motivated. As discussed in the last post, it is important to celebrate small accomplishments to your larger goals to keep you motivated and on track.

Long-term goals should be an immediate link to your values. Values can be Family and career. My main values that my life surrounds are growth, connection, honesty, accountability, and work-life balance. There are a lot of sub-values underneath those categories. Some of these are leadership, learning, authenticity, openness. My goal of teaching others about productivity links to my goal of giving back. I want to see other people succeed and take charge of their lives. I want others to learn how easy being proactive can be. 

Pick your To-Do list Type:

You can make any type of to-do list you want. The master’s to-do list, the daily to-do list, or a to-do list under your current project goal. However, I will talk about your daily to-do list because it can be a very helpful organizational tool. Then I will discuss a master to-do list.

Tips for creating your Daily To-do list:

1) Use a short daily to-do list

24 hours is not a lot of time to complete everything. Therefore you must prioritize. Unfortunately, there are many time-sucks we have a day that are required of us.

  • 8 hours of sleep at least
  • 2.5 hours of eating
  • 1 hour or more getting ready
  • 2 hours of commute
  • 8 hours at a job

To Clarify, this is not an exhaustive list as many work-out, have daily responsibilities, and other habits. Ensure you write your list out of all the time that is required of you already. In order to examine how much time in a day you have left. You will be able to look for places you can cut back the amount of time to make room for other priorities.

Your daily to-do list should be less than 10 items long. Then, only include things that are your current projects. If longer sleep time is not one of your goals, you should exclude sleep from your daily to-do list. 

Having a long to-do list can cause excessive worry. As a result, worry will make it harder to complete tasks on your list. In short, if your daily to-do list consistently remains incomplete this is likely the reason.

Additionally, having a lengthy daily to-do list of 50 or more tasks is ineffective. Long daily to-do lists can be distracting. You will have many things competing for your attention.

Therefore, you should prioritize your list. Put your most important to-dos on your list. Think about what must be done today. Then, ensure those must-dos are on your list. Eliminate tasks that are “should-dos” and “good to-dos”. 

2) What to include on your daily to-do list

There are many things I recommend putting on your to-do list. My number one is a self-care item. Make self-care a priority. If you need to cook dinner today. Make sure to add it to your list of things-to-do. Always, make yourself a priority. 

Additionally, you should add a personal task. This will be your next step in one of your personal goals. My personal goals are to read more and sleep more. Therefore, I add tasks such as read for 30 minutes or get ready for bed at 9:30 pm.

Then, add your work to-dos. To begin, figure out what is most important for your job by comparing deadlines. If you work in research, like me, and there are no paper deadlines, decide on your internal deadlines. Stick to those deadlines. Second, you can also decide what is a priority by looking at what would bring the most value to your organization. I typically go with deadlines. In contrast, many other people use potential income to determine goals to be prioritized.

3) Leave room for error

Your day will not look ideal for your to-do list that leaves no room for error. Tom will come over to your desk and want to chat for an hour. Janice, your boss, will add 7 tasks that she believes must be done today. You will end up with a severe migraine–complete with an aura. Getting to work will take 3x longer than it usually does. You will have left your laptop cord at your partner’s apartment and have to use a 13-year-old laptop still using windows 2007. If it can happen, it likely will. Thankfully, a short, well-prioritized to-do list will come in handy in these moments.

4) Beware of making a plan

 Making a plan sounds like an excellent idea when it comes to getting your goals completed. For Long term goals, this is true. However, for short term daily tasks this is often unnecessary. 

Many people take more time making the plan than actually accomplishing the task.

When it comes to a task that can be completed in 20 minutes do not plan it out. If the time taken to plan out each step is more than that of the task itself, keep the planning to a minimum. 

Your daily to-do list acts as a nagging mom reminding you to do the thing. When you make a plan for a single task your brain might feel like it is done with that. At this point, your to-do list becomes ineffective at nudging you to complete the tasks you already made a plan for. You must make sure you act on those plans.

When planning goals plan out the first few steps that immediately come to mind and are actionable. Write them down.

However, if you do not plan the day and the tasks that should be accomplished much of our goals will not get done. 

  • Decide priority goals
  • Determine the next actionable step
  • Complete the next actionable step
  • Continue until the goal is completed or you have to stop

Doing this will help you mark off your goals quicker and get closer to completing your goals. 

5) Avoid too much research

Do as much research as is necessary. However, beware of getting caught up in the research hole.

6) Grouping similar tasks together

If you have to do several tasks like creating blog posts. Your best bet is to just work on several at a time. Or let us say you have three email accounts you have to check. Or 17 emails to make. Do all of them at the same time. This will make these smaller tasks a little more efficient. I find working on several blog posts at a time allows me to not get stuck and to still feel ready to write the next day. 

Creating a master list of goals

to do lists

When you are working on a length project you cannot do everything at once. This is where a long term plan comes in handy. 

Focus on what to do and figure out what not to do. Creating a focus is all about focusing on the most important things. Must-dos require weeding out all of the things we should not be doing. For instance, if you have a report due by the end of the day, you should not be helping Sara with her report. Focus on what you must do. Focus is about narrowing in on the most important parts of your job.

Large goals should be broken down into actionable steps

You need to break it down into smaller steps. Your master goals of short-term and long-term goals need a plan. Planning is the key to accomplishing your larger goals. Make sure to keep organized and prioritize. 

You will need to revise and refocus your goals. And then your daily tasks to match your goals. Think of the best feasible task and then do that next. 

You can also ask a friend to help you if you do not have the skills to work on the actionable next step. Brainstorming with a buddy can help you be more creative in solving your problem.

What I do:

Imagine you have a task to write a 2000 word blog post. I break this up into working on it 30 minutes at a time. This is how I learn exactly how much a blog post will take me to write, edit, and research. Instead of just having on my to-do list “Write 2000 word blog post: Creating the best to-do list” I also have “Write spend 30 minutes writing.” “Spend 30 minutes editing” “Spend 30 minutes researching,” I add these tasks again until the blog post is ready to publish. After, I complete the task “write 2000 word blog post”.

Learning how much time your tasks take allows you to adequately plan. Inevitably, in time, you will become better at time management. I use the time increment 30 because I use the Pomodoro technique.

Commit to the goals on your master list

The goals on your master list will only get accomplished if you commit to completing them. Therefore, do not put anything on the list that seems unimportant. If you do not believe it is important it will not get done. 

Goals that link to your values

Figure out what you value. Do you value the importance of eating healthy or are you doing it because you do not want to be judged? Say fuck you to what you believe others want for you and do what you want to do.

Creating a clear goal and plan

1. Decide what

What is something you’d regret not doing if you knew you would die in the next 10 years? That is your goal destination. Now define it in a sentence. I want to spend more time with friends, have more friends, and I want to cultivate lasting friendships. 

2. Define why

Friends are important to me. Feelings of loneliness and disconnection sap our creative energy. I want to experience more out of life than just work, have experiences I can share, close companions I can rely on to build me up, and lastly, cherish my companions.

3. Define how

Use the smart goal format. You can learn about smart goals here.

Example: I want to spend quality time with friends every week.

4. Define your actionable steps

Example: I will ask one friend a week to do a zoom call or hang out.

5. Think about the things that you need and do not have to address your problem

Examples: COVID-19 puts a damper on things. Zoom calls get boring. Not enough ideas about how to have fun zoom calls with friends. Can meet some people in person on occasion after the holidays.

6.Think about solutions

  • Learn new ways to host zoom calls
  • Google best things to do on zoom or facetime. 

7. Create a good plan

Main goal: Cultivate a good social circle and gain connection.

Sub-goal: Spend more time with current friends

  • Ask Jen to do a Zoom reading session again.
  • Ask Alexis to do a call to talk about the blog and life. 
  • Find out fun things to do over zoom. 

Timelines and Deadlines 

Some goals do have an expiration date. You will have to create your own. However, Make sure this timeline is a self-imposed reason rather than a societal-imposed reason. 

Try to set your due dates with reasonable but daring deadlines. If a task will only take you 3 hours to complete try giving a deadline for two days into the future. Pushing yourself will help you achieve your goals. 


Creating to-do a functional to-do list requires a lot of planning and commitment. However, as you get used to learning how to create effective to-do lists and what works best for you this skill will come more easily. 

Your to-do lists allow you to adequately plan your goals. Without a good plan, you leave yourself to the mercy of fate. You will feel disorganized and ineffective. Having a good proactive plan will help you be proactive rather than reactive.  I would love to hear from you! Post some comments below about your struggles making a to-do list.

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