Quick Tip:
How to Make To-Do Lists Work for You

To-do lists are effective time-management tools – but only if they're easy to use. Here are 6 strategies for making your to-do lists work hard for you.

  1. Keep it simple.

    Whether you use a computer-based to-do list or a paper tablet, it must be simple. If it's too complex, you won't use it … guaranteed. That's why I keep my to-do lists on paper.

    I use a 5" x 7" tablet. I list "major" tasks to be accomplished, with big sub-steps underneath each one. For example, "Edit Golden Thread" is a major task. "Main article," Quick Tip," and "Introduction" are big sub-steps.

    Note: A major task is not necessarily one that takes a long time.

  2. Limit yourself.

    Small paper tablets work well, because there's a limit to how much you can write on a page. I stick to a maximum of 10 tasks, all of which can be accomplished within a week of when I list them.

  3. Set a due date – and stick to it.

    Due dates help prioritize what you do and when. Do not work on tasks in the order in which you write them down. Jot down the due date beside each one, and do them in the order of their deadlines.

  4. Use a dark marker to reinforce your feeling of accomplishment.

    Cross off sub-steps as you complete them with a regular pen. Use a dark marker to cross off the major tasks. Boy, does it feel good!

  5. Redo the list every workday.

    Do it when you start your day (or the evening before). This gives you a clear idea of what you have to do right now, and what needs to be done before the end of the day.

  6. Add "pop-ups" to your list.

    When something pops up during the day that has to be attended to (such as an important phone call), add it to your to-do list – even if you've already done it. To-do lists not only tell you what you have to do, you can use them to track your productivity and see if you're using your time well.

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Published: August 6, 2007

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