How To Create To-Do Lists That Actually Works?

Asmita Karanje

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

I have been a task-master all my life — may be one fallout of being a productivity junkie. I am not proud of being one, though. The reason — I might be fantastic in achieving specific tasks on hand, but it might not add value to my goals or help me move forward.

I feel good about having fixed my broken watch, but have I completed my blog for that day? Unfortunately, the answer is no, and it took me some time to understand what is more important and to be completely honest, I still am not great at prioritizing my writing habit. I try.

Completing tasks will give you a feel-good factor temporarily, but it won’t lead you closer to your goals.

So I looked into some archived to-do lists, and I found out that most of these tasks can be broadly categorized into

  1. Shopping (things that I wish to buy from Mobile phone to groceries)
  2. Running errands (Altering clothes, repairing a broken watch or fixing a tap)
  3. Personal grooming, organizing and cleaning things in the household
  4. Online research/registering/subscribing/unsubscribing, etc.

Sometimes we keep adding to these lists without really completing them and some other times we are too fixated in achieving them, as they say — ticking that box becomes more important than gaining much value out of that task

These tasks are the essential evils that you can’t ignore, but it’s not worth prioritizing them either unless that broken watch is the only watch you have. In which case you’d fix it be it on that to-do list or not.

Another major problem with to-do lists are seldom we have any timeframes associated with these tasks and the ones which ask me to put a deadline — I find them obtusely annoying, so never end up using them. None of the organizer apps has been able to solve this problem effectively in my view.

Lastly, sometimes we tend to club the insignificant, the critical, the watch items, the goals, the absolute must and the nice-to-do’s — all in one big laundry list. It is difficult to focus on the most important ones and prioritizing them.

I am not saying that I don’t take notes of what I want to do and how I want to do them. But maintaining a to-do list is a task in itself, and it will require time — that precious resource that you can utilize in doing something else without having to bother of those hundreds of items on your to-do lists.

So what is the Alternative?

There are quite a few alternatives.

Create more meaningful lists instead.

A few of them could be for example,

  • Watch items
  • Goals
  • Things I want to research on for my Blog
  • My plan for that day

Tackle the JDI’s — Tasks that you can complete straight away, ‘Just Do It’.

These are those low hanging fruits that you should definitely reap. These tasks do not require much effort and also give you a sense of satisfaction that you completed a few things off your list.

E.g. Complete buying that red dress which you were eyeing for days now and just be done with it or simply unsubscribe from that news channel that you know is poisonous to your peace of mind.

Rule of thumb — Anything that requires less than 15 mins — Do it right away.

If you can’t do it straight away, then schedule a time for it.

This is my favorite tactic when it comes to office work — I block my calendar for ‘important deliverables’ so that I can focus on doing them rather than attending meetings that lead us to no good outcomes (More on that, in another article).

But it’s the same principle that applies to some of the essential tasks which you want to complete in time — schedule them. Book an appointment or Add it to your calendar or set up a reminder — whatever suits you.

Use a whiteboard or something visible to you throughout the day. To-do list for one fine weekend that I had written on the Whiteboard

Check the above picture of my to-do list for the day scribbled on the whiteboard in my kitchen. Again being a great believer in ‘Lean’, I use those concepts in my personal life too. As per the ‘Lean’ philosophy, anything that is visible gets solved faster. Because it is right in front of you, you want to accomplish those tasks and cross them off your list.

You can also assign a timeline to each task when you’d start and how long it will take. This tactic will help in assessing if you have enough capacity to complete all the required tasks for that day or you need to reprioritize. It is an excellent way of managing time, analyzing how your time got utilized the whole and you seldom waste any minute by doing this as you are always on the go.

A few tips when doing this

  • Maintain all your lists in one place and preferably on a digital medium accessible via your phone because it is handy and you can quickly refer as and when required
  • It is a no-brainer but categorise all similar tasks into one list — one for shopping, one for any self-development activities, one for running all weekend errands, one for organizing or decluttering your life, etc.
  • There can be hundreds of these lists, but keep them to a minimum (one digit) so as not to overwhelm oneself in managing these lists rather than managing the real tasks at hand

If there is just one takeaway from this article, let it be this — Do not get caught up in the whirlwind of doing routine things. It is like the sand that would somehow find its place in the jar full of rocks, stones, and gravels.

Just how you can’t do without food and so you shall figure out a way for your meals without spending way too much time and effort on it, you shall achieve those essential tasks anyway.

For the other less important ones, create separate lists and give them a title that is very clear about what it is.

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Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

Dallas, TX

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