To start preparing your to-do List, start by downloading our To-Do List template here.
Writing your list down on paper or putting it into a document is the simplest and easiest way to start using To-Do Lists. The key thing here is WRITING it down in a place you can find it again, keep it close to you and use it as a tool, not just forget it after you have done it! Then follow these steps:
Write down all of the tasks that you need to complete. If they’re large tasks, break out the first action step, and write this down with the larger task. (Ideally, tasks or action steps should take no longer than 1-2 hours to complete.) This is sometimes one of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to manage your time. Try and be more precise and chunk down your steps.
You may find it easier to compile several lists (personal, study, and workplace To-Do Lists, for example). Try different approaches and use the best for your own situation.
Run through these tasks allocating priorities from A (very important, or very urgent) to F (unimportant, or not at all urgent).
If too many tasks have a high priority, run through the list again and demote the less important ones. Once you have done this, rewrite the list in priority order.
Using Your To-Do Lists
To use your To-Do List, simply work your way through it in order, dealing with the A priority tasks first, then the Bs, then the Cs, and so on. As you complete tasks, tick them off or strike them through.
You can use To-Do Lists in different ways in different situations. For instance, if you’re in a sales-type role, a good way to motivate yourself is to keep your To-Do List relatively short, and aim to complete it every day.
In you’re in an operational role, or if tasks are large or dependent on too many other people, then it may be better to focus on a longer-term list, and “chip away” at it day-by-day.
Many people find it helpful to spend, say, 10 minutes at the end of the day or the night before, organising tasks on their To-Do List for the next day.
Once you’re comfortable using To-Do Lists, you can start differentiating between urgency and importance.
For more on this, see our article on the Urgent Important Matrix.
Using Software or Electronic Tools
Although using a paper list is in my opinion the easiest way to get started and do your To-Do Lists, software-based approaches can be more efficient in spite of the learning curve. These can remind you of events or tasks that will soon be overdue, they can also be synchronised with your phone or email, and they can be shared with others on your team, if you’re collaborating on a project.
There are many time management software programs available. At a simple level, you can use MSWord or MSExcel to manage your To-Do Lists. Some versions of Microsoft Outlook, and other email services such as Gmail, have task lists and To-Do Lists as standard features. ‘Remember the Milk‘ is another popular online task management tool that will sync with your smartphone, PDA, or email account. It can even show you where your To-Do List tasks are on a map. Other similar services include Todoist, Ta-Da Lists, and Toodledo. For MAC users, a great To Do List/Project management system is Omni Focus- which I use and find very helpful for breaking down projects into daily tasks.
One of the biggest advantages to using a software-based approach to manage your To-Do List is that you can update it easily. For example, instead of scratching off tasks and rewriting the list every day, software allows you to move and prioritize tasks quickly.
All of us think, plan and work differently. A program that works well for a colleague might not work well for you simply because you learn and think in your own way. This is why it’s useful to research and try several different ways of compiling your To-Do List before deciding on a single system. And don’t get hung up on the system! Sometimes we spend so much time trying to find a system and not doing the tasks on our To do Lists!