12 Essential Tips for Building the Perfect To-do List

Organization is a key factor in reducing stress, conserving time, and learning important life skills such as financing and life. Some believe you are born with the ability to organize, but the truth is with a bit of time anyone can learn how to get their life in order. A great way to start on this journey is to learn how to make an effective to-do list. Even something as simple as this can seem impossible if you aren’t in the right mindset for it. So here are a few straightforward to-do list tips to get you started on your road to blissful order.


1.) Pick a Medium

There are so many amazing ways to create to-do lists these days. From the tradition pen and paper to the fun whiteboard, to a more modern app. Honestly, play around with every option and just go for the one or two that feel right.

2.) Start Slow

All good things take time to master. A big mistake most people do is fill their to-do lists with their most difficult or time-consuming tasks right from the start. Another error is they jam it with too many items at once. These types of lists will only fuel frustration, and the list will be thrown out by the end of the month if not sooner.

It is best to start on the day at a time plan. This means only write a list one day in advance. Another thing is to try to keep the items simple for a week or so. Chore items such as washing dishes, feeding the pet, and cooking dinner are always great starter items. Never feel dumb for starting slow and simple. This is a marathon to success, not a sprint.

3.) One Sitting Rule

There are things every item on your list should have in common. The biggest commonality is they should be able to be completed in one sitting.

If the item cannot be completed in one sitting simplify it so that it can. For example, if you have a research paper due don’t itemize it as “write research paper.” Break it down into smaller items such as “write intro” or “research topic one” that can be done in a reasonable time frame.

4.) Add Side Notes

When making a list, it is always better to add more than just the item. For that research paper example, you should also have a side note with what it is for and what the topic is. Of course, the due dates will always be included as well. Basically, any little piece of information you could forget should be side noted near the item.

5.) Be Realistic

We know all too well that there are only 24 hours in the day, and a chunk of that involves eating, sleeping, and waiting for others to get themselves in order. This is why you need to be smart with the items you decide to take on. Always label by priority and what can’t get done needs to be moved around or passed up.

6.) Be Flexible

A part of being realistic is being flexible. This is life people; things change by the second. Just because you have a list doesn’t mean the world will feel the need to follow it. You should never become a control freak because fate will knock you on your butt so fast you won’t see it coming.

The point of a list is not to strictly follow it, but to allow you to be prepared to alter things with ease when unavoidable variables arise. Lists are about preparation, not control. Things will need to be moved or eliminated at times, and you need to be ready to be flexible when that time comes. A good tip is to always leave about fifteen minutes in-between items for the unexpected.

7.) Time Yourself

Once you start getting the hang of following your list, the next step is to really get on top of estimated completion times. This does not need to be an exact science, but it will help if you can know a general time it takes you to do the more common tasks. Back to the paper example, sit down and write a page and see how long that takes. Next time you have a writing item you can estimate a more exact completion time so you won’t struggle with knowing when you will be able to move on to the next item.

Another tip is to always calculate travel time. Whether you ride the bus or carpool make sure you know the time it takes you to get to your main travel points. Most people forget to account for travel, and it messes up a lot of timing constraints.

8.) Schedule scheduling

You wouldn’t believe how many to-do lists get thrown to the side simply because someone never made time to create and update them. It may sound silly or even tedious, but the first item on your list should be to make the list and to schedule your next time you want to sit down to update it. You never understand how important this is until you actually take the time to do it.

9.) Always Have Multiples

You should never have your entire list in just one place. For example, there should always be at least one physical and one digital copy of your list.

On top of that, you should have multiple types of lists. The one you will mostly be working with is a weekly list of your most important items, but you should also have a master list of sorts that lists even the smallest activities. You could also have them separated by what they are for, such as work, family, and recreation.

10.) Keep Records

Never just throw away past lists because they can help you make a future list or help you recall something you already did. Either way, it is always good to have something to go back to and remind yourself that you have done this before, and you can do this now.

11.) Publicize  

It is harder to back out or make mistakes when others are watching. Letting those you trust and care about know your list will often lead to extra motivation and encouragement. Another good reason to go public with your list is so that people will always be aware of what you need to do, and where you will be if there is an emergency. Again, this isn’t for strangers, only those you genuinely trust.

12.) Don’t stress, Don’t Quit

Making a to-do list is meant to lower stress, not create more. So, if you are feeling stressed by your list, you can do two things to avoiding quitting. One is cutting back. There is no shame at all in removing a few items until you are ready. You can also take a list break. This means putting it aside for a day or two and then giving it another chance. The only thing you shouldn’t do is quit on it, and by association quit on yourself.

Remember to leave “me time” on your to-do list and to get all of the essential nutrients your body needs.

Creating a to-do list will only get easier the more you do it. It may take a while to get the results you want, but if you truly want them, you just have to know when to push. Hopefully, these tips helped.

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