If you are struggling to keep track of everything on your plate and you feel like you’re constantly juggling tasks and never getting anything done? Don’t worry, you’re not alone!
Many people find it tough to get their lives organized. But the good news is, that there are a few tricks that can help you kick the busyness to the curb.
In this post, we’ve gathered 12 of our favorite hacks for how to make a to-do list that works for you! With a little bit of effort, you’ll be able to take control of your life and finally get things done.
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How to make a to-do lists that actually work
To-do lists are excellent tools that help you keep track of your activities and manage your time. But they can also be an overwhelming part of your day if you haven’t taken the time to design a list that fits your unique productivity personality style and needs.
As a self-proclaimed list queen. I LOVE the accomplishment felt when I check off a task. Even if it is a small task. It is motivating to see checkmarks on the page. But I had to go through a lot of planners and productivity tools to recognize this about myself!
That’s why one of the keys to creating to-do lists that work is that they should be authentic. They should be created based on your Productivity Superpower so that you can leverage your productivity strengths while overcoming the roadblocks that keep you busy!
Additionally, our to-do lists should be realistic and sustainable! These three keys are the basis for every routine, schedule, and plan we make to ensure productivity.
Designing a to-do list that works
The system you use to create your to-do list can make or break the success you experience with your list. Implementing even just a few of the following to-do list tips will help your to-do list work so much better!
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1. Minimize the length
It is recommended that you keep your list to 3-5 items a day. This allows you to focus on the tasks that are most important and not get bogged down with a long list of items that stress you out.
A short list also forces you to prioritize and makes it easier for you to feel accomplished. A list that is neverending or unrealistic can quickly become demoralizing.
If you have more than 5 items, consider breaking them down into smaller steps or spreading them out over multiple days.
2. Use a categorization system.
If you struggle with keeping a shorter daily task list, or tend to end the day with multiple lists, learn how to make a to-do list that categorizes your main list into groups. Sample categories can be:
- Children’s activities
You can then use these groups to create to-do lists for the week in each category, then choose a single task to complete in each (or a realistic number depending on the time allotted per task).
Looking for more tips on time management? Check out all of our productivity resources
3. Use Color and labels to add detail.
One way to add dimension and complexity to your to-do list while still keeping it realistic and sustainable is to use labels and colors to separate categories of tasks. This can also help you with habit blocking which can be an amazing way to break up tasks throughout the week.
To habit block you do a certain type of tasks from a list each day. The easiest example of this is to have a cleaning habit. Each day you would complete a certain cleaning task within a certain window. These tasks would be color-coded and during a certain time each day, you would complete that task.
4. Block out your time.
Organizing your to-do list in a time block type planner is a great way to make better use of your time. This type of system allows you to see at a glance what you need to do and when you need to do it.
It also allows for more flexibility because if one task takes longer than anticipated, you can easily adjust the rest of your tasks around it without feeling like the day is shot.
5. Choose paper or digital.
This is another strictly personal part of creating your planner. Many people use digital planners and productivity apps to help them create effective to-do lists. Some of my favorites are Todoist and Trello, and I use them for different processes to keep my home running smoothly.
And while I am techy on many accounts, I can not ignore the beauty of using a well-thought-out paper planner. The tactile accomplishment of checking off a task is something that makes the planning process so satisfying.
Here are some of my favorite planners:
- Top 10 Best Weekly Planners for Moms you Must Try!
- Top 10 Best Day Planners for Moms of 2022
- Top 10 Best Academic Planners for Students and Teachers
Tips for Using Any To-Do List Effectively
Once you have designed a to-do list that fits your unique productivity style and personal situation its time to use it more effectively. These to-do list hacks are all ways that you can use your to-do list more productively.
1. Set priorities.
A good list allows you to quickly identify the tasks and responsibilities that require your immediate attention. Prioritizing your tasks in this way helps you to feel more accomplished because the tasks you do first will be those that work in your favor and get you towards your goals quicker.
Using a planner page or template that gives you space to prioritize a top 2-3 goals/tasks for the day is crucial to ensure that you keep the most important tasks first.
2. Distinguish between urgency and importance.
One thing you have to be sure of recognizing when you are creating your to-do list is to understand the difference between urgency and importance. This is one place where many of us get into trouble with our to-do lists because urgent tasks become a top priority when they are not important!
This is particularly notable for those who are people pleasers! To serve others and help where you can, you may take on tasks that may be urgent for someone else, but not important for you. For example, picking up dry cleaning before they close may be urgent, but spending time with your children is important (albeit less time-sensitive).
3. Automate routine tasks.
If someone else can do something, let them. Having an effective to-do list means being clear about the tasks that you need to do and the tasks that can be done through automation or outsourcing.
Not sure what to outsource? Here are a few routine daily tasks that can get outsourced to help make your to-do list work for you!
- Paying bills
- Lawn care
- House cleaning
- Several business tasks for entrepreneurs
- Email decluttering
4. Build in margin.
According to surveys, the majority of people underestimate how long it will take them to complete a variety of daily chores. Some examples of this are:
- Allowing yourself 10 minutes more between appointments.
- Adding additional time to recipes
- Giving 5-10 minutes of travel time to commutes
Making more realistic time allowances assures that your daily planning is more likely to be successful
5. Prioritize Rest.
The best way to make sure that your to-do list is effective is to understand its purpose, and that is to get tasks done SO that you have time to do the things you want to do.
Productivity isn’t an endless hamster wheel of checking off tasks, it’s about efficiently doing things on your list so that you can get to the fun part. Prioritizing rest ensures that you take time to slow down, have fun, and do things that make your heart sore. This decreases burnout and increases your energy to continue to work on your list.
6. Expect surprises.
The most consistently predictable part of planning is there will be surprises. No matter how complete your list is, there are going to be situations that arise that you do not expect and anticipate.
Creating a to-do list that adds room for this predictable unpredictability in life is key to maintaining your cool. Practically this looks like making realistic to-do lists that do not fill every bit of free time you have.
Remember, 2-4 tasks are all anyone needs on their list to be successful.
7. Reassess often.
Instead of keeping a sticky notes list, opt for a lined journal or bound to-do list so that you can reassess your habits and routines when it comes to creating and managing your to-do list.
If you can pick up on patterns and consistent tasks you may be able to create routines that batch those tasks together to simplify your daily schedules, and potentially create more space for the tasks that you want to do like creative pursuits, journaling, or physical fitness.
Make Effective to-do lists that work for more productive days
Whether you’re a paper and pen kind of person or an app junkie, there is a perfect to-do list for your productivity needs. By taking the time to focus on the most important tasks and letting the rest slide, you can change your life for the better.
And we want to help! Get our FREE Productivity Journal for more encouragement in creating routines that work for you. What are you waiting for? Start crossing items off your list today!