Using a Daily To-Do List

10 mins read

This article is written to share some tips on how to best use a daily to-do list in a way that will work for you.

To-do lists can be the bane of many executives’ existence, yet they have persisted as one of the top tools for those in the workforce, from cubicle to C-Suite! The question, it seems, is not whether a to-do list is beneficial, but rather how to make your to-do list work for you. Whether you are using your to-do list to help you achieve your SMART goals, or to stay on top of small but consequential tasks, it is important to find a method that works effectively for you. Whether using a notebook (not loose papers, those get lost too easily!) or a to-do list app, creating the habits of using your list regularly will keep you on task, productive, and will minimize the stress of not knowing which task to tackle next!

To Use on Your To-Do

While there are many ways you can organize your to-do list, it is important to find a method that suits your needs and the practices you want to enact. For some, a physical paper list is beneficial as sometimes using paper and pen can make you think in different ways – and there is that true joy of putting a checkmark next to a task to consider! For others, the flexibility of digital lists might make more sense. With a digital list, you have more opportunity to shift things around and edit, while a paper list requires erasing or crossing things out to make rearrangements. There are a multitude of to-do list apps available, from those that work with Microsoft Office like Microsoft To Do or Google such as Google Tasks, to independent applications such as Todoist, Asana, Trello, and more. Finding the right method of keeping your to-do list is fundamental to your success in using it – if you don’t like the system, how likely are you to use the list?

Once you’ve found a platform or notebook to use, it’s time to figure out how to write yourself a to-do list. After all, you can’t use something you haven’t created! Start by creating a master list, this is where every task that is currently rattling around in your brain can be recorded. On this list, it’s okay if household tasks are followed by business. What matters is that you put everything that’s taking up space in your mind, and may be slowing you down from being efficient, down in writing. Having written or typed a master list, it’s time to organize it! Create a list for each major area of your life, or perhaps individual lists for large projects that have many smaller tasks within them. This is completely up to you and what you need from your to-do list.

Having these topic lists helps you create structure. Now you have a list specifically for household tasks, and one for that big project you’ve been working on for the last two months. However, these are not daily to-do lists, and that is what we are ultimately trying to create!

Using your topic lists, determine which task items are the highest priority based on their due dates or importance and include these on your daily to-do list. Remember: this is not a list of goals, but a list of tasks that you intend to complete! Write down a reachable number of achievable tasks. While it may seem like writing down many bigger goals is a good idea, because you are reaching for those eventually, the reality is that seeing these items on your list can be intimidating or even scary, and will tempt you to ignore your list altogether. Instead, having a limited number of doable tasks is achievable. You will feel success when you accomplish these tasks, and you should still have room to manoeuvre when other items inevitably show up on your desk.

Using Your List Daily

Ultimately, the goal is to be using your to-do list daily! It’s all good to have written a list, but making a habit of checking your list and using it to organize your day’s structure is what will make these lists come to life. The first step to using your to-do list daily is to write down any tasks that come up as soon as you think of them, and be specific! If each task is specific, you run less risk of approaching a task and realizing that it is actually 5 tasks rolled into one! When an item on your list is this big and involved, it can be disheartening. Avoid this by staying detailed when jotting down tasks.

Your to-do list is designed to guide you throughout your day, and it’s up to you to let it! At minimum, you should check your list 3 times in the day:

    1. Morning – Before you begin your day, prepare or go over your list and determine what is on your plate for the day.
    2. After Lunch – By midday, it’s important to check in with your list to see what has been done and what has yet to be done. This can give you strong indications of your daily productivity.
    3. End of Day – Before you go home for the day, take the time to revise your list, reschedule any tasks that you’ve missed, and sketch out what your list will look like tomorrow.

Aside from these times, use your list throughout your day as much as you are able! The joy of using a to-do list means that you get to check off tasks as you complete them, and these bursts of celebration at your productivity can mean the difference between a slog of a day and an energized day. The more you use your daily to-do list throughout the day, the more your day will be guided towards your best levels of productivity.

2 More To-Do Tips

    1. Give Tasks Due Dates – When writing out your to-do lists, particularly your general topic lists, jot down any due dates or deadlines that apply to your list. This way when you are starting your day by selecting the top priority items, you will have that information readily available.
    2. Ask for Help – A key question to ask yourself is: can I do all these tasks? Often, when working on a large project, there might be a few items on your to-do list that you either don’t yet have the skills or experience to do, you want to delegate to someone else, or you need someone else’s input. Take the time to write their names or initials next to these items, and let them know as soon as you can! Even if you aren’t working on that item or project right away, giving others as much lead-time as possible will improve collaboration and ensure your deadlines are all met.

Remember, the most important part of using a to-do list daily is to recognize that your list will only work as hard as you will. When you keep up with listing out tasks, keep track of deadlines, and measure your days out by prioritizing some tasks above others, you will be productive and effective with your to-do list! Be honest with yourself about how much time and effort each task will take, and try not to leave the biggest tasks for the end of your day! Starting at the top of your list, with the highest priority items will ensure that you have enough time to do these tasks thoroughly and to your highest quality.

If this article has piqued your interest in elevating your daily to-do lists, stay tuned for upcoming articles on productivity and task list methods.

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