Tips for More Effective To-Do Lists

It’s a fact of life: everyone is busy. When you have a million things going on at any given time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Just like anyone else who spends their day juggling multiple projects, clients, and family obligations, I find myself in this position fairly regularly. Fortunately, I’ve developed some great solutions that help me manage my time and be more productive. Everyone works differently, but maybe these tips will help you as well!

Woman taking notes in a journal.

Make a list

I’m a list junkie. I would be lost without my to-do list. Personally, I like a physical pen-and-paper list (and a cute notebook doesn’t hurt!) but a list on your phone or computer would certainly do the trick. I write things down as I think of them and as they come up throughout the day. Every few days, as things get crossed off, I’ll rewrite the list and organize it by subject or client.

Start with the small stuff

I write things down that I probably don’t really need to - things that I’ll remember to do regardless. But having some quick and easy things that I can cross off makes me feel accomplished and gives me a little boost! If you’re having trouble tackling your list, start with a few simple items to get yourself on a roll. Then you can move on to the more complicated tasks once you’ve settled into your workday.

Stay focused on your “must-dos”

Every morning I look at my list and select three (or more) things that are my must-do items for that day. Once I start one of these “must-dos”, I stay 100% focused - no checking email or responding to messages in the middle of a task. Each task must be entirely complete before I can move on. This strategy has helped keep me focused and I complete things quicker if I don’t always have one eye on my email.

Look ahead

While the main purpose of a to-do list is to help with immediate time management, it’s important to be aware of upcoming tasks. Some of my clients have weekly or semi-monthly tasks that I always know are approaching. I like to get these on my to-do list early, so I have them on my radar and can make smart decisions about where to spend my time today.’

Plan for the time you have

For telecommuters and all of those of us who don’t always work 9-5 at an office building, it’s even more important to plan your time wisely. When working from my home office, I often have my two-year-old son with me, which means my days are predictably unpredictable. On days when he’s with me, I know that large blocks of uninterrupted time are hard to come by. Instead, I try to knock out as many of my smaller tasks as possible, freeing up my other days to focus on more complex issues.

Whatever your normal workday looks like, to-do lists are one of the simplest, most effective ways to keep yourself on track.