Six tips for better to do lists

To do lists can be very useful. Making a list helps me to release stress if I have a lot to do. When written down, tasks always seem less daunting than in my head. To do lists also encourage me to be more productive, because it feels good to check off an item. But if you do not use them in the right way, to do lists can have the opposite effect. When you are never able to do all the things on your list, to do lists can be rather discouraging. In this post I share some tips that helped me to make better to do lists.

Six tips for better to do lists

1. Choose a place to write and keep your to do lists
I used to write my to do lists on a whiteboard, and erase the items I had done. Because my whiteboard hung above my desk, the list was a good visible reminder. I also liked how the whiteboard became emptier as I did the items on my to do list.

Using your phone is another option. You can choose a simple notification app or an app  made for to do lists with extra functions. Apps can give you the possibility to set reminders, synchronize with google calendar or share lists with family and friends. Another advantage is that you probably carry your phone always with you, so your lists are always nearby.

At this moment my favourite place to write and keep my to do lists is a notebook. I use a notebook in pocket format with lined pages. But you can also buy a notebook that already has check boxes. The advantage of this method is that you can look back at previous lists. I also prefer to write instead of type my lists. I recommend to try out different methods yourself. So you can find out which one works best for you.

2. Choose a time period
You can keep a to do list for one day, one week, one year or for the time it takes to finish a specific project. Of course you do not have to choose one. Every morning I make a to do list for the day. But in January I also wrote down some goals for this year. When I write my daily to do list, I always try to think of what I can do today that will help me reach my goals at the end of the year. So it can be useful to keep to do lists for different time periods.

3. Choose a type of to do list
Usually I just include everything I want to do in my daily to do lists. But it can be useful to make separate lists for work and leisure time. You can also keep other lists, like a to-be-read-list, a travel wish list or a content calendar for your blog. Although more than one is useful, too much lists can be overwhelming. Of course you have to define for yourself what “too much” is. For me this is when checking off items becomes a goal itself instead of a tool. But I know that some people enjoy to document everything in their life. So this is very personal.

4. Choose realistic tasks
It is important to pay attention to the kind of tasks on your to do list. It sounds  obvious, but I always list tasks I am really going to do. Be realistic, and do not expect that you will also clean the whole house after a long day at work. It is quite discouraging if you are never able to check off all the items on your to do list.

Furthermore, ‘clean the house’ can be one item on your to do list, it can take the whole day to do it. It works better to split up a big task like this. If you are able to check off an item when you have done a part of the task, it will encourage you to continue.

5. Keep focused
When I have too many items on my to do-list, I am also not able to check off all of them before the end of the day. Therefore my daily to do lists never have more than 7 items. This maximum number of items works good for me, but you may be able to do more or less things in one day.

The last three weeks I have tried the app Fabulous. This app gave another useful tip to keep focused: when you have written your daily to do list, choose the three most important tasks. Write an “A” behind the task that you need to finish before all the other tasks. Than an “B” behind the second most important task, and an “C” behind the third priority. This method is a good way to avoid procrastination. Because you start with the most important task, instead of the easiest.

6. Reward yourself
Do not forget to make time for your hobbies! They could function as a reward. Knowing I can read after finishing task A, I will be more motivated to finish the task. But do not be too hard on yourself. Even if you did not do everything you wanted today, relaxing is necessary. Your hobbies definitively deserve a place on your to do list.


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