How to master the to-do list

A to-do list with a hot chocolate

Image credit: Julia Sudnitskaya

The to-do list may seem old-fashioned, but it is still just as relevant in today’s society as it has always been – perhaps even more so with our busy lives, full of digital distractions. So, what is the best way to use a to-do list? Should you write one or several? Should it be handwritten or should you use your mobile phone? Read through our tips and tricks for answers to these questions and more.

What works for you won’t work for others

It is important to remember that everyone will have a way of organising themselves that works best for them; what works well for you might be a terrible way of doing things for your neighbour or your friends, for example. Don’t be afraid to experiment with various techniques, to see what does and doesn’t work, so you can hone your method.

Keep it balanced

One key to getting jobs done on your to-do list is to make it as easy for yourself as possible. The best way to do this is to add some ‘nice’ tasks to your to-do list – things that need doing, but that you don’t hate doing. That way you won’t look at your list and just decide to put it all off to another day. For me, these ‘nice’ tasks would be things such as sorting through a box of stuff or doing the laundry. Think about which tasks you find the most satisfying, and make sure these feature regularly on your list.

Add rewards

Woman eating an ice cream

Image credit: Yastremska

Going a step further, you could even add reward tasks to your to-do list. After all, all work and no play isn’t a good balance. Consider adding treats such as “take a 10 minute nap” or “eat an ice cream” (just to make space in the freezer, of course!)

Do it daily

One gigantic to-do list can be overwhelming to tackle and therefore become counterproductive. Instead, break the tasks down and write out a daily to-do list, making your task workload feel much more manageable. This also gives you clear focus on what you need to achieve each day.

Learn to prioritise

If you don’t prioritise your tasks, you may end up completing all of the less important ones every day, and avoiding the ones you really should be tackling. Methods for prioritising include writing the most important or urgent tasks at the top of your list. Or try the 3 + 2 rule, where you write a daily list of three big tasks and 2 small tasks.

Keep it real

A car's steering wheel covered in post-it notes

Image credit: REDPIXEL.PL

Don’t add too many tasks to your daily to-do list – this will just put you off as soon as you look at it. Keep your list concise.

Don’t let the list own you

If you are struggling to keep up with your to-do list, it can make you feel like you’re failing. You aren’t failing though, you have just overloaded your list. If you are having problems achieving your tasks, simply make changes to the list to get your mojo back. Remember: you own the list, not the other way around!

Combine paper and technology

If you like to use technology, try using an app on your phone to jot down every task that pops into your head, and then write your daily to-do list out on paper: it is said that handwritten to-do lists are more motivational than printed or app versions (perhaps because of the physical attachment).

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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