The art of To-Do lists

More than once I’ve had friends tell me they’d like to be more organized, but as soon as I mention to-do lists they’re like “oh no, I don’t do lists”, so I don’t get to explain much more. Now, if you’re reading this blog I’ll assume that you are interested, so let me tell you more about making nice and effective to-do lists!

In the most basic sense, all you need to do is grab a pencil and a piece of paper, write down what you need to do, and then do it. Sounds easy, right? Even this very basic to-do list is already helping you become more productive, because it takes all those tasks out of your mind and into your list. This allows you to focus less on remembering your tasks and more on actually doing them.

Now, that’s cool and all, but if you really want to get your projects going, you’ll want to go a step further and improve your lists to make them even better and more useful. Here’s some things I’ve learned about making good to-do lists:

1. Break your tasks down into smaller ones

If you write a list of tasks off the top of your head, some of your tasks will probably be way bigger than others. You might have “create new website” next to “buy ink refills”. Some tasks are short and simple (like buying things or running errands), while others are more like projects than single tasks. In this case it’s best to break big tasks into a series of sub-tasks, which will work as a map that leads to completing the big task.

For example, say I have a task that says “create new website”. I can break that down into several sub-tasks, like “get a hosting/domain for website”, “make graphics for website”, “thumbnail website designs”, et cetera. Separating your tasks this way helps you visualize the progress that’s being made on the big task, and makes it easier to schedule tasks or set deadlines. It also makes big tasks seem less overwhelming, because now you can take them one step at a time!

2. Make your tasks specific

One of the best parts of a to-do list is checking off the tasks you’ve already finished – it’s satisfying and it makes you feel great! but what makes a task count as finished? For most tasks it’s quite simple (“buy ink refills”, done. “ink page 105”, done…), but for more complicated or abstract tasks, the finish line might be a little blurry. For this, it’s always better to be as specific as possible in your tasks, to know they’re actions that actually have an end.

For example, you could have “daily harmonica practice” as a task, sit down for 10 minutes to practice some notes, but then you feel like you haven’t done enough – the task doesn’t feel finished! If you changed that to “15 minutes of daily harmonica practice”, that feels like a more concrete, and therefore attainable task.

3. Make your to-do list visible

There is no point in writing a to-do list and then burying it on the back of a drawer. Your to-do list should always be accessible and easy to reach, so you can easily write things down as they come to you, or check what your next task is gonna be.

How exactly you’ll make this list visible depends on the type of list you have. If it’s a paper list, put it on your wall or next to whatever you use the most on your workspace. If it’s on your phone, try using a widget to keep it on your home screen. Just try until you find what’s the best place for you!

For example, I have colored post-it notes with tasks on the wall next to my office desk at work, and a widget with my upcoming Todoist tasks on my phone.

I’m writing this post on vacation, I usually have way more tasks than this.

Keeping your lists visible is specially important when you’re just getting started with using to-do lists. If you’re consistent, checking and updating your lists will become a habit, so you won’t really worry about remembering to use them.

3.1. Check your lists regularly

Very related to the previous point, and very important if you keep long lists, is to check all of your tasks regularly to see if your tasks are still relevant, or no longer necessary. Sometimes you’ll write down a thing you want to do, postpone it for a very long time, and eventually realize that you don’t really need to do it. In that case, the best thing is to just let it go, and erase it from your list. That way you’ll have more space for the things you actually have/want to do!

Reviewing your lists often also helps you schedule your tasks, or add details you might have missed. I try to do a full check of my lists once a week.

To-do lists are a simple but powerful tool to help you get things done, and it’s really easy to get started! maybe they’re the perfect fit for you, maybe not, but it’s at least worth trying.

What’s your experience with to-do lists? is there anything else you’d like to know? let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help 😛

  • Keyndid Elmi

    I never made to-do lists before due to be worried that I might forget. But maybe with the tips you’ve typed up and the beauty of modern-technology, I can be less fearful of forgetting. For real, thank you! I’ll be using it often!

    • If you want to go with modern technology there are plenty of great to-do apps with mobile and browser versions! Any.do, Todoist and Wunderlist are some of the most popular ones :^)