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How to Write an Effective To Do List

Ever wake up in the morning, super overwhelmed by all you need to do? You grab a pen and your planner and before you know it, you’ve scribbled a list two miles long. By the end of the day, you’ve only checked off a few items and are feeling more scattered than ever.

I know exactly what that's like, because that’s how I used to write lists. Over time, I’ve found a few tricks to writing the perfect to-do list - meaning one where everything gets checked off and you feel accomplished at the end of the day! Here are some of my best tips for writing an effective to do list.

Write your daily list the night before

Things inevitably pop up each day, and if you leave your to-do’s to unexpected variables, you might be spinning in circles all day. I like to set my priorities straight ahead of time! It's so nice to wake up already knowing exactly what you need to do.

Limit your list to 3 priorities - then all the other stuff

I think setting 1-3 priorities for the day is totally realistic. It’s ok to add more in case you still have time, but consider the day a success if you made progress on 1-3 priorities. And make these tasks specific! Like “finish page 1 of inventory spreadsheet” or “fold and put away all towels” so you know whether the task is completely done or not.

Don’t confuse tasks with projects

I’ve been guilty of writing a huge item, like “pack for move” on my list. But that’s a project, not a task. Break down projects into small, bite size items. Instead of “Pack for Move”, start with an achievable step, such as “Pack coffee mugs” or “label boxes”.

In my opinion, each task should be something that can be completed in one sitting. I prefer for each task to take somewhere between 15-60 minutes. If it takes longer than that, it’s a project! And a project needs an effective to do list in order to get done, right? So break those projects down!

Front load your to-do list

For each item, know exactly how and where to do the task before you write it on your list. If you don’t know how, then the task should be to do the research first.

For example, if you need to repair your vacuum, you may first need to order a replacement part or watch a video on how to do the repair. Just writing “Repair vacuum” will lead to procrastination if you don’t know how to start. Trust me, I’m the best procrastinator out there.

Don’t write down a task if you’re not going to do it

Be honest with yourself about whether you’re going to commit to the tasks you’re writing down. If a task is carried from day to day but not getting crossed off, it might be time to ask if you’re really going to do it. Maybe it’s not important to you anymore or maybe it’s time to find someone else to do it.

It’s completely okay to reevaluate your priorities. In fact, I think this is the most important trick to writing an effective to do list. If you've already decided you'll succeed at a task before you start writing, you're sure to get it done! And if you can clear the list of things that really aren't important to you, you can make more room for the activities that are.

So that's how I write an effective to do list, but I'd love to hear if you have any other ideas. Do you have any other tips for how to write an effective to do list? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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