These are the 5 secrets to a successful to-do list

Avatar Written by Saadia Iqbal ·  3 min read >

We all know that a to-do list is a layout of how you are going to start your day. It does not matter whether you are an entrepreneur or not, if you want to be sure that you are focusing on the right areas, then creating a to-do list matters. For some of us, it can be scary to determine what should be the focus of your energy on the given day. Sometimes, it feels there is not enough time to meet your goals of the day. Trust me when I say I have been there.

From what I have observed, many of us are making a to-do list but we are using it in a completely ineffective way. If you were using a to-do list to measure self-worth, then you are making a huge mistake. Do you know how Warren Buffett used to create his list? His success formula was to do less instead of doing more. He told his pilot once that to reach his goals, he had to do 3 things.

  1. Write down 25 top goals and circle 5 most important ones.
  2. Write down these top 5 goals on another list and put the remaining 6 to 25 goals from the previous list on a ‘Not-To-Do’ list.
  3. Ignore everything on the ‘Not-To-Do’ list until you have achieved your top 5 goals.

Truth be told, it is not easy to be productive by simply creating a to-do list. Here, I am sharing 5 secrets of creating an effective to-do list and get more done in a day:

1. Keep it simple

What’s your approach to creating a to-do list? Like me, you probably would be tempted to write everything that’s in your head just the way you create a grocery shopping list. Honestly, that’s not a smart approach to create a to-do list. In fact, you don’t really need a mile long list. It should only have those tasks that can be done in 24 hours. The purpose of creating a list is to organize your thoughts, mention the tasks of the day, and achieve them one by one by maximizing your productivity.

2. List the priorities

Peter Bregman, a time management guru and an author, advises his clients to pick 5 priorities and spend 95% of their time on those 5 tasks only. Since the to-do list helps us focus on the most important tasks of the day so, you first have to decide what’s important. Even after you have listed the 5 MIT (Most Important Tasks), make these priorities fight each other. Chop down the list to 3 priorities per day. You need to create a list that leaves you happy and confident by the end of the day with your daily progress. Plus, prioritizing allows you to take note of what you have accomplished, what you hope to accomplish next and so son.

3. Use sections

A do-list needs to be comprehensive. So why not divide it into a list of two columns? At the left-side, make a list of things you want to do in the day in a chronological order. It can be meetings, appointments or even calls. On the right-side, mention what you hope to get done during those events. You can even include a section on your list for items that weren’t really a part of your to-do list of the day. That way, whenever you have a few extra minutes, you can make the best use of your time and kill those tasks.

4. Assign time estimates

Omar Kilani, the Cofounder of ‘Remember the Milk, a popular to-do list app says that each item on your to-do list must also include a time estimate. Why? Because allotting time to each task lets you know how much time you these tasks will collectively accumulate. Then, you can make a realistic decision about how much you can do in a day.

5. Rollover, delegate or drop

If someday, you aren’t able to finish everything on the list, that’s ok. The only thing you have to concentrate on next is how you will be handling those tasks. In that case, you have 3 options:

Option 1: Roll it over to tomorrow’s to-do list. Be careful not to roll too many critical tasks to the next day because it can get counter-productive. You are allowed to roll 1-2 tasks max.

Option 2: You can delegate that task to someone else. This can make your to-do list shorter.

Option 3: If the task is being rolled over to the next day more often and delegating it to someone else doesn’t sound to be a good option either, then it’s a sign that this task isn’t critical enough to be on the list to begin with. So, simply drop it.

The don’ts of a to-do list

Now that we know how to create a perfectly effective to-do list, it is time to also consider the don’ts of it. Read on:

  • Try not to get overwhelmed by the tasks on your list. That’s why it is recommended to only list a few tasks down. When you have fewer options, it becomes easier for your brain to make decisions.
  • Don’t associate your self-worth with checking items off your list. Being able to complete a lot of things in a day is not the only thing that defines you have done a great job. Of course, we all need some validation but if there is something on the list that you are unable to complete, don’t put yourself down.
  • Don’t be vague when you are writing some item on the list. It is recommended to start the task with a verb. This increases the chances of actually doing that task since no further thinking is required. You know what you are supposed to do and you do it.

I hope that with these effective tips, you can manage your tasks and time to accomplish what really matters. Once you start organizing your tasks by what you value, it actually makes you more productive.