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How to Make a To-Do List That Works for You

Between your job, going to the gym, hanging out with family and friends, and other personal obligations, you have a lot going on in your life!  Staying on top of your goals and meeting deadlines can become nearly impossible. One way to make sure you are staying on top of everything is to create an efficient to-do list. But, do you think a to-do list doesn’t work for you? Maybe you, like many others, have tried and failed to make a to-do list. You might have tried a digital to-do list, or an old-fashioned pen and paper to do list. You might have tried a bullet journal or used fancy highlighters, and none of it has worked. 41% of all to-do items are never completed, so you aren’t alone in that feeling. However, maybe you aren’t just making the right one for you, so here are a few tips to make the right to-do list for you.



  • Pick how you want to write your to-do list.
  • To-do lists don’t have to be written anymore. If pen and paper isn’t your type of thing, there are apps out there that you can help create a completely personalized to-do list. If you do go digital, the advantage is that your to-do list can follow you home.
  • Have more than one to-do list.
  • Not everything should be on one to-do list. Think outside of just the daily to-do list. Here are a few examples of lists you should create.
  • Master List
    This list should contain your long-term goals – things that you want to complete in the next three to six months. Think about what things you could do that would have an impact on your job or life. Maybe the goal is to finish writing a book, learn a new language, or declutter your house.
  • Weekly  List
    Your weekly to-do list is where you can break down your master list into actionable steps. It helps you to take small chunks out of your big goals and makes it more manageable. Having this weekly do-list can help you manage your day-to-day schedule a bit easier as well.

Daily List 

The daily list is the chance for you to break your weekly goals down even further. These should be small tasks that you can check off and finish in just a couple of hours each.

Set timelines

As most procrastinators know, the more time you have to do something, the less likely you are to work on it until the last possible moment. Regardless of whether or not you have a real deadline, have self-imposed deadlines that are reasonable and give you enough time to complete it.

Don’t put too many things on the to-do list.

According to social psychologist Roy Baumeister and journalist John Tierney, the average person has roughly 150 different tasks to complete at one time. The average executive’s to-do list for one Monday could take an entire week to finish. We often become overwhelmed by the number of things on a to-do list. Overfilling your to-do list can actually have a negative effect on your productivity. Emmons and King also found the worry from having too many things on your to-do list means that  you might have too many conflicting goals, causing your productivity, mental, and physical health to suffer.

Don’t try to cram too many things on your list. Otherwise, you might get overwhelmed and not do anything at all. Make sure your to-do list doesn’t weigh you down, but instead is a tool to help increase your productivity.


Before you even get started, look at the most critical tasks that you need to complete before the day is over. Pick the two most important ones that must get done today, and make sure those are at the top of your list. Even if you finish nothing else all day, make sure you complete those two items.

Take time the night before

One of the hardest parts of actually having a successful to-do list is actually doing it. Pick a time that works for you. The night before is often a good option because it gives you a time to reflect on what you accomplished that day and set your goals for the morning. Creating your to-do list the night before helps to set your day up and get you started off the right way.  By setting aside the time, you can stay organized and determine what still needs to be done.

Always keep your to-do list updated


Don’t just keep your old to-do list and then continually add needed things to do. Make a fresh list every day so you can give priority to the right items. Practicing this technique is an excellent way to bolster your productivity, because your to-do list is never bogged down by old items. It is also a great way to see what you have accomplished in the past 24 hours.

Be vocal

This tip might not be for everyone, but if one of the best ways for you to hold yourself accountable is to be vocal and make your to-do list public, then do it. It doesn’t matter if it is posting it online via digital calendar so everyone on your work team can see it or posting it on the refrigerator, whatever works best for you to keep you on task, do it.

Understand that life happens

Even if you plan meticulously, sometimes things happen, and you can’t get even one task on your to-do list done. A LinkedIn survey found that one of the main reasons for to-do list items not getting completed was due to unexpected tasks, such as unplanned calls, emails, or meetings. Unfortunately, life can get messy, and that means that random things will pop up, both big and small. Sometimes the to-do list can’t evolve with real-life, and that’s  okay. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish anything. Just make sure to evaluate your list for the next day and keep checking things off.

Remember, you are probably doing more than you realize, and you are accomplishing more than what is on your checklist. Keep the motivation strong to help you continue completing tasks.

Lindsey Conger on InstagramLindsey Conger on Twitter
Lindsey Conger
Associate News Writer: Lindsey is a writer originally from Chicago but can now be found somewhere in Europe. She is driven by a passion to explore every corner of the world, spread her marketing and business knowledge, and to be able to speak Spanish fluently. Follow her on Instagram at @lindseyaconger

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Associate News Writer: Lindsey is a writer originally from Chicago but can now be found somewhere in Europe. She is driven by a passion to explore every corner of the world, spread her marketing and business knowledge, and to be able to speak Spanish fluently. Follow her on Instagram at @lindseyaconger

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