6 Experts Spill on How to Write a More Effective To-Do List

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I am a to-do list writer, and I do it longhand. Something about seeing my tasks written out in black and white – and being able to check them off, one by one – really helps me focus. Not only that, having them all checked or crossed out at the end of the day gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Like getting a sticker, for a kid.

Also, I would take a sticker if you had one.

Ahem. Back to the point.

Below are some tips and tricks from the experts on how to make a better list, and how to make it work for you!

#6. The 1-3-5 model.

Photo Credit: The Muse

With this method, you identify the most important, must-do item and list it as #1. Next, you pick your 3 next most important tasks and put them in the middle. At the bottom goes 5 items that you’ll be able to finish quickly – and that can be left if you don’t get there.

COO and co-founder of The Muse Alex Cavoulacos also points out that using a method like this “means you’ll be able to have more informed conversations with your manager when he or she drops something new on you that needs to be done right away – as well as the tools to re-prioritize your work.”

#5. Incorporate time-blocking.

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Instead of listing all of your tasks equally, break them down into segments based on how much time they’re going to take to complete. This will help you set realistic goals as far as what can be accomplished in the amount of time that you have.

#4. Consider a Kanban board.

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A Kanban board can help people who benefit from visualization techniques. You start by finding a board – virtual or real – and use post-it notes or index cards to organize your tasks. Make three columns labeled “To-Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” then start with the ones in your “Doing” section. Move them into your “Done” column as you complete them, and move from the “To-Do” column into “Doing” when you start them.

Keeping the board in a spot where you can see it during the day will help, too.

#3. If/Then options.

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I’m totally guilty of this – when you’re writing out your list, you have a cup of coffee and your day is still on track so you think anything is possible. But the truth is, life gets in the way of everyone’s best-laid plans on occasion, and working an if/then model into your daily list can help you feel like less of a loser if you end a day without everything neatly completed.

Of course, you’ll want to prioritize the more important items onto your “if” list and then put your dream goals on the latter.

#2. Choose a “Could-Do” list instead.

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Sam Bennett, author of Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius In 15 Minutes A Day, advises taking the pressure off by using a “could-do” list instead. She makes columns for her tasks, the time each will take, any expense, her inclination to do the task, and the return on investment. She uses those to prioritize, and to help herself see which ones are okay to let slide.

#1. Draw pictures.

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If you’re not artistically inclined, this idea might sound awful, but there is reasoning behind it. This study found that doodling quick images next to a list can help the items both stick in your mind and forces you to think through what you expect to happen that day ahead of time.