5 Steps to Creating a Powerful Daily To-Do List

by | Aug 26, 2015

There are lots of ways you can record your to-do lists. You can write down your deadlines and appointments in a physical planner and remind yourself with post-it notes. Or you can keep everything on the computer with a helpful app.

Choosing which program to use, however, is not nearly as important as knowing how to keep a to-do list that will not sabotage your productivity. Yes, that’s right. Even though to-do lists are supposed to help us work more efficiently, if they are written up in the wrong way, they can actually end up doing more harm than good. In today’s post, I’m sharing five steps to follow to create a powerful to-do list that will supercharge your productivity. 

This post is an excerpt from my recently released eBook Study Smarter where I share lots more study tips and productivity hacks.

5 Steps to Creating a Powerful Daily To-Do List:

1. Keep it short.

I have the bad habit of writing to-do lists that are a mile long. This means that I become overwhelmed by everything that I need to accomplish, and I end up procrastinating rather than getting down to work. In actuality, your daily to-do list should not be so long that it would be impossible to reasonably complete all of the tasks in twenty-four hours. A good medium is 3 to 5 tasks.

2. Keep multiple to-do lists.

In order to keep your daily to-do list short, you should keep track of your projects and deadlines on a single master list. This is where you write down everything that you need to accomplish. Then every night write up a separate to-do list for the next day, pinpointing which items on your master list are your top priorities.

3. Break projects down into smaller tasks.

Try to be as practical as possible when adding items to your daily to-do list. For example, “write term paper” is very vague and a bit intimidating. It’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastinating over such a task because it seems like it will consume all of your time. Instead, break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, instead of attempting to write your entire term paper in one day, first just focus on the outline or on the introduction. On your to-do list you could write, “Complete term paper introduction” rather than, “write term paper.”

4. Be as specific as possible.

As we’ve just seen, it’s always best to write down your tasks in the clearest way possible. This is a good method to follow even when you are not breaking a large project into smaller bite-sized steps. Write out all of your tasks as specific actions you can follow. For example, instead of writing “study for math test”, you could write, “Study chapters 3 & 4 in math textbook and review all homework problems”.

5. Rank tasks in order of priority.

Even on your daily to-list, you should organize tasks according to importance and complete them in order. Begin with the items that are your “Most Important Tasks”. You should try to tackle the MITs first thing in the morning before moving on to the other tasks. It becomes more difficult to complete them the longer and longer you put them off.

Ultimately, when to-do lists are used correctly, they help us optimize our organization and prioritization of projects and keep us mindful of upcoming due dates and important appointments and events. This frees up mental space and stops us from wasting time on mundane tasks. Follow the 5-step method to create a powerful daily to-do list that will prevent you from procrastinating and will boost your productivity.

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