How to Create a Daily To-Do List
Ah the to-do list. It’s truly an art form. And one that’s easy to get so, so wrong!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, if you’re already working off a daily to-do list, you’re a step ahead!
Want to start making a better to-do list? You’ve come to the right place. Here’s a round up of the best tips for making an effective to-do list, and my secret hack for getting twice as much done every day.
Why Are To-Do Lists Important?
First thing’s first, why do you even NEED a to-do list?
Keeping a to-list helps you stay organized, and organizing your tasks with a list can make everything much more manageable.
There’s also the psychological reward element of using a to-do list. As you cross items off your to-do list, you’ll feel a sense of progress and accomplishment, and the affirmation that you are making progress will help motivate you to keep moving forward, and continue to be productive.
Having a list of all your tasks will allow you to sit down and make a plan. One study showed that “fifteen minutes spent planning could save an hour of execution time!”.
Another reason why to-do lists are helpful is that they help fight overwhelm. Writing down tasks immediately makes them achievable, and helps lay out our days in a visual, concrete, conquerable way.
How to Make an Effective To-Do List
Here’s a step by step guide for how to make an effective to do list:
1. Make a “master” list
The best way to start your daily to do list is by writing down EVERY possible thing you’d like to get done today. Do a “brain dump” and write down every task: every work task, every home task, every side-hustle task, meetings, appointments, workouts… write it ALL down!
Getting tasks out of your head and onto paper is the best place to start.
P&P Tip: Writing down tasks is also an effective stress and anxiety reliever. This is why many experts recommend keeping a pen and paper next to your bedside table. We all know that feeling of not being able to sleep because your brain just won’t turn off – an endless stream of to-dos and worries keep you up, and you just lay there, paralyzed with anxiety. Instead of lying in worry, simply grab that pen and paper (or a note on your smartphone), and write down what’s bugging you. That way you KNOW you won’t forget about it by the time morning rolls around, when you’ll be far more prepared to tackle any issue.
This is also a great tip for creative types – I don’t know about you, but some of my best ideas come to me right as I’m drifting off to sleep or in the middle of the night! Having a pen and paper next to your bedside ensures that these ideas get captured.
2. Categorize and segment your to-dos
Once you’ve written down everything you can think of that you’d like to (or need to) get done today, the next step is to break these tasks out into categories. Categories like:
- Work (break out “meetings” as a separate category within work)
- Side Hustle
Over the years, I’ve actually gotten the layout of my daily to-do list down to a science. I basically create 4 quadrants, but the top half (work-related) is much longer than the bottom half (personal-related).
In the top-left quadrant are all my work to-dos – tasks that I want to/need to get done today. I usually with add sub-labels within this task by client, or type of work.
In the top-right quadrant are my work meetings – tasks/meetings that are time-bound and cannot be moved.
In the bottom-left quadrant are my personal to-dos – things I’d like to get done today, and can mostly do from my computer. I usually write a big letter “P” with a circle around it at the top of this section. (This section has gotten especially long in the later months of wedding planning!)
In the bottom-right quadrant are my personal errands & time-bounds tasks – things that require me to travel somewhere (like the gym for my workout, or the post office to mail a package), or meet someone (dinner, drinks, rehearsals, etc).
3. Prioritize your list
After you write down every possible task and section them out into categories, go back and star your top three tasks, so you know what’s the most important.
Or you can use the “ABCDE” method, popularized by public figure, Brian Tracy.
Looking at all the tasks on your master list, go through and assign each item, line-by-line, with one of the following letters.
“A” Task – You should only write “A” next to 1-2 items on your list. These tasks are very important, and there may be negative consequences if you do not complete them. Be very mindful of what you label as an “A” task! I’ll explain why in a minute…
“B” Task – “B” tasks are important, but not AS important as “A” tasks. You should do them, but there are only minor negative consequences if they are not checked off.
“C” Task – “C” tasks are nice to do. If you don’t complete a “C” task today, there shouldn’t be any consequences. Housework and many errands easily fall into the category of “C” tasks.
“D” Task – Delegate! Take a hard look at your master list and see what you can task out or ask someone else to. All too often (especially as women), we feel we need to do EVERYTHING. And usually, that’s not the case! This works especially well with work tasks, or group tasks.
“E” Task – Looking at your master list, what can you “eliminate” completely? Either by pushing the task to another day, or by eliminating completely, “E” tasks are those you can move off your plate (so you can spend more of your valuable time on your A & B tasks).
The ABCDE method is great because it forces you to take a good hard look at what’s important and what’s not. When your to-do list gets long, it’s easy to just start at the top and work down, hoping that you fit everything in. Or, we get trapped in the cycle of working on our “easy” tasks first, leaving the tough stuff or the urgent stuff for “later,” and when we finally DO get around to them, we’re stressed and low on time!
They key to success with the ABCDE method is – after labeling your daily tasks – start on your “A” tasks first. This will ensure that your most important work of the day gets prioritized. And even though sometimes it’s difficult to find the motivation to get started first thing in the morning with a particularly tough task, the sense of accomplishment and confidence boost you get after completing it will be well-worth it!
4. Break it down
With your daily to-do list, being incredibly specific is a must. Writing down “work on research paper” as one of your tasks isn’t going to get you a tangible result at the end of the day. Rather, keep “work on research paper” as a master task, but add in bulleted sub-tasks that serve as specific action items. For example:
- Work on research paper
- Find 3 relevant sources
- Write at least 5 pages
- Email professor about bibliography question
See? Much more specific and actionable. And don’t be afraid of the phrase “at least” (only in the context of list making) or “minimum” – setting a bar for yourself will give you a goal to shoot for. If you write more than “at least 5 pages,” great! That’s just icing on top of the cake.