How to write an effective to-do list (and stick to it)

Do you ever feel like you’ve achieved nothing, even though you’ve been busy every minute? Do you look at your full to-do list at the end of the day and wonder how it has grown? And do you ever look at the one of 10 items you’ve ticked off your to-do list and feel a complete failure? If yes, read on.

To-do lists can be the most effective and destructive processes when it comes to time management. They’re often overloaded with unrealistic tasks and goals for one person to achieve in the limited time frame they allow themselves. With internal pressures to perform, external stresses and a culture that prides itself on being constantly busy, a full to-do list is unintentionally portrayed as a sign of importance.  

But writing a to-do list on a day-to-day basis is an effective way to manage smaller tasks that are essential, but can get lost in the bigger picture. Whether it’s a personal or professional to-do list, it’s completely acceptable to have a ‘backlog’ of tasks that you wish to complete. When planning time effectively to eventually achieve these ‘backlogged tasks’ a daily list that has been thought through realistically is best practice.


  • Know your task-time

One of the main issues with sticking to a to-do list is the unrealistic goals we place on them.

Placing too much pressure on yourself to complete a to-do list can cause debilitating stress, low self-esteem and confidence and negative thinking towards yourself and your own capabilities. The key to a to-do list is to realistically give time value to your tasks and to consider external factors when creating your to-do list.

For example, you may tick off eight tasks in a day and add a further eight to your to-list tomorrow, forgetting the two meetings you have. Being unable to achieve your to-do list goals will heighten those feelings of frustration, disappointment and lack of self-confidence.

  • Plan the night before

You may be rushing to finish work and get home, but spending 10 minutes at the end of the day could be the most productive part of your working day. Go to a quiet corner and assess what you achieved that day, what you didn’t manage and why and how this affects your tasks for tomorrow.

Only you know how long it takes you to complete a task, so be kind to yourself and allow time to finish jobs to your standard before moving on. Give yourself four tasks that need to be completed, and then rest can be ‘nice to haves’. Tasks may occasionally roll into tomorrow’s to-do list but don’t be despondent, this is natural. If this scenario falls into a constant cycle, it may be time to re-prioritise or break down the task to more manageable chunks.  

  • Prioritise

This leads us to prioritisation. Prioritisation is the key to moving forward with your to-do list and feeling a sense of achievement. Assess what tasks really need to be completed and add those to your list first. Tasks that are urgent would consist of business critical, deadlines, external events or factors out of your control. Then you can order as per your time allocation above.

  • Share

In the professional space, share your to-do list with your colleagues and managers. Not only will visibility help you to manage others’ expectations of a joint task and allow your team to re-prioritise if an urgent task comes in, it will help your managers delegate workloads and allocate you support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. The same goes for a family situation; allowing visibility enables family expectations to be realistic and work together.

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Katie Hoare

Written by Katie Hoare

Katie is a Digital Marketing Executive at Memiah and writer for Life Coach Directory.

Written by Katie Hoare

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