Creating a To Do List that Works

(Step-by-Step Guide)

Your ability to execute and put together a well thought out to do list determines the level of success you’ll reach in all areas of your life.

I used to constantly struggle with to do lists, here are some of the mistakes I made:

  • My lists were unorganized,
  • The tasks on the list were not prioritized properly,
  • I wasn’t motivated to take action on the tasks I had to complete,
  • I didn’t know how to start working on the tasks.
  • I had not set a clear outcome I wanted to achieve.

These are just some of the mistakes that caused me to run in circles like a chicken without its head.

After doing a bit of research on this topic, I’ve developed a unique solution that has greatly improved my productivity and my ability to execute.

Creating a To Do List that Works

How Your To Do List Looks Now

Chances are it looks similar to how mine used to look like. But before we take a look at how it looks, we need to think about how you go about creating a list.

How do you think of tasks you need to complete, how do you prioritize them and how clear are you with your desired outcomes?

These are all questions you answer when creating a to do list.

The problem is that the effectiveness of the entire list can collapse if you don’t answer a question properly, even if it’s just one.

If you don’t answer a question properly or aren’t specific enough with it, the rate of your productivity plummets.

Let’s take a look at how that happens, as well as other common to do list mistakes.

Common To Do List Mistakes


Big Tasks are Overwhelming

This is a mistake that used to haunt me in my sleep.

I would create a to do list the night before and because I didn’t care about tomorrow’s struggles, I would simply write down a few difficult tasks.

Because of this, I’d often put these BIG tasks on the list and by BIG I mean extremely difficult.

These tasks would be so difficult that it would take me an entire day to complete them, but that wasn’t the real problem.

The real problem was all the procrastination I had to go through to actually get started on the task.

If you’re anything like me, you like things organized, you like knowing exactly what you need to do and what steps you need to take.

It’s a shame that that is not the case when you put a very difficult task on your to do list.

The task seems scary, your brain freaks out and does everything it can to keep you from working on it.

A Wrong To Do List Order

When I was still in school, our professors would often say that it’s best to start off the day with the easiest tasks.

By completing simple tasks first we would go on and build momentum, which in turn would make it easier to complete the more difficult tasks.

Like most things I learned in school, this was also wrong.

You see, each day we wake up with a finite amount of willpower. We then use this willpower to give us a push so we can start working on a task.

But remember, the amount of willpower is finite, meaning it runs out at a certain point. And by starting with the simple tasks, you’ll end up using all your willpower before you even get to the difficult tasks.

Meaning you’ll never complete the difficult tasks and you don’t want that. It’s the difficult tasks that contribute most to your life.

No Defined Outcome

Every task is done with a certain desired outcome in mind, or at least that’s the idea of it. But I don’t know how many people realize this idea.

I often see people working on tasks that they don’t even understand.

They don’t understand why they’re working on it and what they’ll accomplish by completing it.

The only thing they understand is that they need to complete it, because ‘’so and so’’ told them to do so.

When you don’t have a clear goal in mind when working on a task, chances are you won’t do a good enough job. In some cases, you’ll even completely miss the objective you actually had to complete.

Not defining your desired outcome is one of the biggest mistakes one can make when creating a to do list.

No Reason to Pursue and Complete List

You wake up, get ready, pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit at your desk.

You take a look at the to do list you put together the night before and you’re feeling sorry for yourself.

‘’Today is going to be a tough day, there’s no way I’m doing all of this.’’, you say to yourself.

Every bit of you wants to procrastinate on the to do list and you’d do anything just so you wouldn’t have to complete it.

Has this ever happened to you?

If it has, it has happened for a single reason.

You don’t see a clear reason for what you’ll achieve by finishing the to do list.

Your mind has wandered off the end goal and you forgot why you’re doing it all for.

But don’t worry, this has happened to me many times too.

But enough about all the common mistakes of creating a to do list, let’s create one that works instead.

common to do list mistakes

How To Properly Write a To Do List


Step 1. Look at your vision

Take a look at your goal, take a look at your vision statement.

What is it that you have set out for yourself to achieve?

What actions do you need to take to move the needle?

Write down 3 tasks.

Step 2. Prioritize and find the tasks why

Now that you have your next 3 tasks written out, ask yourself.

Which one will be the most difficult to complete?

Sort these 3 tasks one from 1 to 3.

1 being the most difficult and 3 being the easiest of the list.

Now take a look at each task.

Ask yourself: What will I accomplish after completing this task, what will I move closer towards?

Write your answer down next to the task.

Step 3. Microtasking

If you suffer from a condition called ‘’crazy brain’’, like me, you’ll consider this 3rd step your savior.

Take a look at each task you wrote out and break it down.

Break down each task into 10-minute microtasks. (It doesn’t have to be 10 minutes necessarily, the point is to break the task down into very simple tasks.)

Repeat this process until you have divided the big task into all microtasks required to complete the big task.

By doing this, you’ll be kicking procrastinations ass.

Procrastination can be defined as a fear of the unknown and when you have all steps laid out in front of you, that fear completely disappears.

Step 4. Creating a to do list that works

Now take task number 1 (the most difficult one) and write it on your you to do list.

Below it write the task’s why and what you’ll accomplish by completing it, this will keep you motivated as you’re working on it.

Below that write out all the 10-minute microtasks you came up with earlier.

Then repeat the same for tasks 2 and 3.

Benefits of Creating a To Do List that Works

Benefits of Creating a To Do List that Works

By following the structure explained above when creating a to do list, you’ll be reaping incredible benefits.

First off, you’ll be leaving procrastination behind.

As mentioned, procrastination is a fear of taking action. You’re afraid of the unknown and by following the principles of microtasking that fear diminishes.

At the same time, by finding the task’s why, you’ll have a clear reason and inspiration to complete the tasks, which will also work in your favor against procrastination.

The second benefit is an increase in productivity.

Due to an increase in motivation and inspiration, you’ll naturally complete the tasks faster and more efficiently.

While at the same time having more fun and getting more enjoyment out of the work you’re doing.