How an Effective To-Do List Can Rock Your Productivity

Last Updated on April 5, 2022 by Stephanie

Who doesn’t love a good to-do list?  Don’t you enjoy writing all your stuff down for the day and scratching off each item with satisfaction when you finish it?  It is a wonderful feeling.  Chances are though, that you could be using to-do lists in a better way.  Keep reading to find out about how to use this tool to get more done and feel accomplished each day.

Picture of computer and notebook with coffe; how an effective to-do list can rock your productivity; creating time for life

The Typical To-Do List

You start your day and get to work.  Suddenly, you realize you have several small tasks you’ll need to get done during the day.  Then, out pops the piece of paper or post-it and you write these tasks down.  After this, you might add a little box next to each item to check off when you’ve accomplished them.

Does this sound familiar? This is the typical to-do list, the list that we create time after time and then throw away when we are all done.  I have written a million of these lists in my lifetime.  There are several notebooks half-filled with these lists in my basement right now.

Next, let’s take this a step further and look at why these don’t work, and can potentially create more stress and more work.

The Problem With Lists

There really is no problem with lists themselves.  However, the caveat to that statement is that there are no problems when you organize them, prioritize them, and review them.

Typical to-do lists that most people make have the following going for them:

  • They are usually thrown out at the end of the day.
  • Personal and professional mix together.
  • They contain items that don’t really need to be on there.
  • It makes you feel guilty or overwhelmed because you feel like you aren’t going to get everything done.

I read somewhere that the idea of a list that works is one that serves you and helps you.  If you are at the mercy of your list, it may not be effective.

Effective To-do Lists

I love my lists. My lists are easily accessible to me. They are checked as often as needed. There are also multiple lists.  That is really the big three for effective to-do lists or project lists.  Now, let’s dive into these three ideas to help you better tune your lists!

There are multiple.

You should have multiple lists.  These lists should be organized in a way that makes sense for you!  My lists consist of a Project List, a Someday/maybe list, a daily list, a priority list, and a throw-away list.  Yes, I have 5 lists.  Let me tell you a little bit about each of the ones that work for me.

  1. Project List – This list is for EVERYTHING.  It is my master list of all the things.  I have it categorized by things like house maintenance, school, family, crafting/creating, wealth, etc.  It has hundreds of items on it, but they are not all things that I need to do right away necessarily.
  2. Someday/maybe List – I got this idea from David Allen in his book Getting Things Done.  This is a list of things that you want to do, but you don’t want to think about them right now and don’t need to take action on them.  Things like an Italy trip, going to Hawaii, Learning how to ski, are on my list.  Again, these are things that you want to do, but you don’t need to do anything about them right now.
  3. A Daily List – My project list on Todoist has the capability of letting me say when I want to do something.  This is great for recurring tasks like cleaning the humidifier, cleaning out my car, etc.  I will set my project list to tell me that I want to get something done today.
  4. A Priority List – These are the tasks that I need to get done today.  When I narrow all things down on my project list, these are the tasks that will give me the most bang for my buck.  I usually pick 3 for work and 3 for my personal endeavors daily.
  5. Throw-Away List – This list may or may not happen each day.  I always keep a small notebook on my desk while I’m working.  I list out things that come to mind while I’m working.  This is to keep me focused on what I’m doing right then.  If I stop to work on what came to mind, I have created an open-loop with what I was working on if I stop to work on what came to mind.  Then, I transfer what I write to my master list.

These are just examples to give you an idea of what your system could look like.  It has taken me over a year to perfect it, and I’m still making changes to it every day.

They are checked as often as needed.

Notice that I didn’t put a specific time for this.  I prefer a weekly review, and you can read more about that in my post about how a weekly review can be a game-changer for you.  Maybe you need to look at everything every morning.  You might like to go through everything bi-weekly.  It depends on what you are doing and what you are putting on your list (which should be EVERYTHING that takes longer than two minutes).

Having a master list of tasks is awesome. As a result of this, I have been able to get so much more done. I put it all on my project list.  Gone are the days of just trying to remember everything.  I put it on the list and I choose what to do with it every time I review the list.

They are easily accessible.

Lastly, you cannot use something if it is not easy for you to use it.  You won’t use a to-do list if you can’t access it all the time.  My main project list and someday/maybe list are located in Todoist because I can access it on any of my devices.  My daily list is also in Todoist, with my priority tasks in my digital planner.  Lastly, my throwaway notebook is always on my desk when I’m working.  This is that notebook I process into my Todoist at the end of the day.

woman writing on notebook with the words my plan:

Consider Going Digital

I used to be someone who loved the satisfaction of crossing something off on a piece of paper.  The physical act of taking the pen and scribbling through a task was awesome.  That is one of the reasons we like to-do lists actually.  The short burst of dopamine we get makes us want to do more.

With that said, I have almost entirely switched to digital for my lists.  Here are a few reasons why I made the switch:

  • I can very easily edit tasks.
  • You can label, prioritize, and categorize what you are doing with a few clicks and shortcuts.
  • Most apps, including my favorite, Todoist works on all my devices, including my Apple Watch!
  • You can set dates and recurring tasks to pop up on your today lists without even thinking about it (Changing my toothbrush, changing the air filter for the house… all set up so I don’t have to remember.)
  • If you check out the picture below, it shows a very cool breakdown of your tasks and productivity. (This is in Todoist, but several other To-do list apps have a similar feature.)
screenshot of todoist app

I chose Todoist.

I am an app snob and can genuinely say that Todoist is awesome.  Since it gives me the ability to have a lot of different projects and filters, I pay for the Pro plan.  The free plan will give you an awesome taste of the app, but puts limits on the number of projects.  If you click on this link, you can use my referral to get two free months of the Pro plan for free.  

Full disclosure is that if you end up grabbing the Pro plan for a year via that link, I can get a couple of months free!  However, I use the app every single day, and these opinions are absolutely my own.

Check out this screenshot of my Todoist main dashboard.  On the left, you can see all of my “projects”, which are my big categories for tasks.  All the tasks that I want to get done today are on the right.  I tagged them to be done today. I can sort them by project or any number of things and I can get to work!

screen shot of todoist app

It really is an awesome app and changed my productivity for the better.

If you are someone who likes the idea of digital, but you also want the satisfaction of crossing something off a list, then consider going digital in a different way with some digital notebooks. Check out a few of the ones available in my shop here at Creating Time For Life!

Pretty Florals Digital Notebooks
Boho Digital Notebooks

A Few Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this post has helped you learn a few new things about To-do lists that can help you going forward.  I want you to achieve what you want and feel successful every single day.  Using a to-do list in your systems for productivity can absolutely help you do that.  Remember though, you might need to see what works for you.  Try different things in this post and tweak things after you do.  Most importantly, you should reflect and change for what works best for you!

What are you going to implement from this post?  What do you already do?  Let me know in the comments below!

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