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How to write a better to-do list
Do you find that you write a to-do list only to immediately ignore it? Is your to-do list perennially unfinished?
You’re not alone.
Whether you’re working from home as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns or transitioning back into your workplace, effective time management is key to staying on top of your most important responsibilities. Yet many of us still struggle with prioritising work and feeling like no task is ever truly finished.
So how do you create a to-do list that works? These techniques will help you create a better to-do list that’s achievable and tells you what needs to happen and when.
1. Make a list that works for your schedule
Everyone’s schedule is different, and what works for someone else may not work for you. When creating the ‘skeleton’ of your to-do list, consider what format would be most beneficial for you. Should you create a list for each day or week, or both? Should you include work tasks only, or personal tasks as well?
Depending on what works best for your schedule and responsibilities, your to-do list could be:
- An ongoing task list of your most pressing tasks and their deadlines
- A daily to-do list detailing your tasks for the day
- A weekly breakdown of what needs to be done and when
- A monthly calendar of key deadlines and tasks
You can also use a combination of the above across multiple to-do lists, such as a daily task list and a monthly calendar. If you’re finding it difficult to stick to pen and paper, project management tools like Todoist and Wunderlist make it easy to update and manage your to-do lists on the go.
2. Follow the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule, formally known as the Pareto Principle, says that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. In other words, 20% of your tasks are responsible for 80% of your output. When it comes to time management, the 80/20 rule is all about optimising use of your time to focus on those most important tasks.
When you’re creating a to-do list, keep the 80/20 rule in mind and ask yourself:
- Are all the ‘important’ tasks on my to-do list actually important?
- Am I spending too much time on tasks that don’t achieve much?
- Are there less important tasks I can remove or delegate to other people?
- Are all of my tasks necessary to achieve the best outcome?
Following this principle will help you slim down your to-do list and prioritise the tasks that drive the most significant outcomes.
3. Practice ‘chunking’
Chunking is the process of breaking big projects of goals into smaller, easy-to-manage tasks. This technique is especially useful if you feel like your to-do list is never finished, or if you have a big task that you need to do but you’re not sure where to start.
Use the chunking technique in your to-do list by:
- Splitting up larger projects into separate, more manageable to-do items (‘chunks’)
- Prioritising each ‘chunk’ based on its importance and urgency
- Focusing on one ‘chunk’ at a time
For example, let’s say you need to write an in-depth report. You could write a to-do list of all the separate tasks or ‘chunks’ you need to do to finish the report in order of importance: research the topic, write a draft report, have the report reviewed by someone else, write the final report and put together a summary document of key findings from the report. You could also break this down into smaller, more specific tasks depending on the complexity of the project.
4. Review and tweak your list
Set aside a few minutes at the start or end of your day to review your to-do list. If you notice that your list has remained untouched or hasn’t been helpful in getting things done, adjust your approach. This might mean changing your to-do list format, reevaluating the importance of your tasks, or delegating work to others.