how to make a to-do list

Learning how to make a to-do list that works doesn’t have to be difficult! This simple step-by-step guide is full of gems for creating to-do lists that boost productivity and increase free time! 

Do you often feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks that need to be accomplished in one day? Are you struggling to keep track of everything on your plate and you feel like you’re constantly juggling tasks and never getting anything done? 

If the answer is year, you are definitely not alone! 

Juggling family life and a career can be quite challenging. One thing that has really helped me stay organized is creating an effective to-do list. Making and following this list has allowed me to prioritize what needs to get done first, so I can prevent situations where I’m feeling swamped with too many tasks at once. 

So 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, you’ll get a step-by-step guide for making 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 list

A daily to-do list is an excellent tool for helping you keep track of your activities and manage your time. Creating a good to-do list, however,  isn’t as simple as writing down a list of tasks and hoping for the best. The system you use to create your to-do list can make or break the success you experience. Implementing just a few of the following to-do list tips will help boost productivity and give you a greater sense of accomplishment.

1. Start with a master list

Before diving into your daily to-do list, it’s important to create a master list of all your daily tasks, desired tasks and responsibilities. Once you have created this main list, you can add due dates to each task so that you can easily prioritize the your to do list!

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If you are struggling to find time to workout or even shower uninterrupted with the mountain of chores looming in the back of your mind?

This quick action resource is a great first step! Take the mystery out of time management and get in control of your time!

2. Keep your working to-do list short

A to-do list should not feel overwhelming! So the next step in creating a great to-do list is to minimize the list. 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.

A short list also encourages you to prioritize and makes it easier for you to feel accomplished. A list that is neverending will take up too much time, feel unrealistic and can quickly become overwhelming.

If you have more than Large tasks to organize in your daily schedule, consider breaking them down into smaller tasks or spreading them out over multiple days.

3. Use a prioritization system

Prioritizing the tasks on your to-do list into separate lists and categories  can help you stay organized and focused. One popular system is the Eisenhower Matrix, which separates tasks into four quadrants: important and urgent, important but not urgent, not important but urgent, and not important or urgent.

By assigning your tasks to these categories, you can easily identify which high priority tasks need to be done first and which ones can wait. Additionally, these tasks can also be prioritized based on categories of tasks. Creating separate lists from your master list can help you focus on a single task in each category of life so that no area falls behind.  Sample categories can be:

  • Home
  • Work
  • School
  • Business
  • Children’s activities
  • Chores

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).

4. Use different colors 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, important details, and priority levels. 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.

Looking for more tips on time management? Check out all of our productivity resources

5. Block out your time

Organizing your to-do list using the time block method of planning is a great way to optimize your productivity and make better use of your time. With this system, you can easily visualize each to-do list item and its designated time slots, allowing for efficient planning of your day.

Some of the greatest advantages of this method are the flexibility it offers and it’s ability to help give a better awareness of time blindness. Pre-determining the time a certain task will take helps you to identify blind spots and time holes in your day. If a task unexpectedly takes longer than anticipated, you can effortlessly adjust the rest of your schedule without feeling like the entire day is derailed. On the flip side, a task that consistently takes more time than allotted can be reevaluated so that you can better adjust days in the future. This adaptability ensures that you can maintain a sense of control and productivity even in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

5.    Paper planner or productivity app?

While it may seem like you should make the decision of whether to use digital to-do lists or traditional paper lists before learning the steps to making a to do list, I find it’s easier to know what may be needed in the process before jumping into the tools. When you understand the process, you may find that a simple notebook could suffice to create a comprehensive to-do list. 

Many people use digital to-do list apps and time management apps to help them create effective to-do lists. Some of my favorites are the task management app, Todoist and Trello (which uses kanban board style planning), and I use them for different processes to keep my home running smoothly.

However, while I am techy on many accounts, I cannot 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:

Tips for using your 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. Here are a few to-do list hacks that  will help you get even more out of your list:are all ways that you can use your to-do list more productively.

1.    Set priorities ahead of time

As discussed earlier, a good to-do list allows you to quickly identify the tasks and responsibilities that require your immediate attention. But when you delay prioritizing, it’s easy to get caught up in tasks that are not important or urgent. Prioritizing your tasks, before working on your list helps you to   stay focused on what is most important and avoid procrastination.

You can choose to prioritize tasks either the night before or in the morning prior to getting started! Use a to-do list template that allows space to prioritize the top 2-3 tasks can help you make huge strides towards feeling more accomplished. 

2.    Create realistic deadlines

Deadlines are a powerful tool when it comes to completing tasks efficiently and effectively. However, setting unrealistic deadlines can lead to feelings of overwhelm, stress, and burnout. It’s important to be honest with yourself about how long each task will take, and give yourself enough time to complete it. 

When creating your to-do list, consider breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. This will help you avoid the temptation of setting unrealistic deadlines and allow you to tackle one task at a time while still making progress towards your end goal.

3.    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).

4.    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
  • Laundry
  • Lawn care
  • Groceries
  • House cleaning
  • Several business tasks for entrepreneurs
  • Email decluttering

5.    Build in margin.

According to surveys, the majority of people underestimate how long it will take them to complete a variety of daily chores.  This is where time blocking and setting realistic deadlines comes into play. By building in extra time for each task, you give yourself the flexibility to deal with unexpected obstacles without feeling overwhelmed or behind schedule. Building margin into your day can look like:

  • 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. Not having margin in your schedule can lead to intense stress, over-exertion and the general feeling of being overwhelmed, adding margin  to your schedule doesn’t have to be perfect, just be sure that you allow yourself extra time for tasks!

6.    Prioritize Rest.

The best way to ensure the effectiveness of your to-do list is to fully grasp its purpose. It exists not just to manage tasks, but to empower you with the freedom to pursue what truly matters to you. Productivity is not about mindlessly checking off items; it’s about efficiently accomplishing the tasks on your list, so that you can fully embrace the enjoyable aspects of life. 

By prioritizing rest and relaxation, you create space to slow down, have fun, and engage in activities that bring immense joy to your heart. This deliberate practice helps to prevent burnout, replenishes your energy, and instills a renewed sense of motivation to tackle the remaining items on your list with enthusiasm and vigor.

7.    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.

8.    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. 

As you practice using your to-do list, take note of any recurring tasks that can be grouped together or delegated. Reflect on what strategies and techniques work best for you, and make adjustments accordingly. Remember that your to-do list is a dynamic tool that should evolve as you do. Reassessing regularly ensures that it remains effective and aligned with your priorities. 

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

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.

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!

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