10 Tips to Help You Create Effective To-Do Lists

A lot of people don't actually get items on their to-do lists done. Here are some ways to help boost the effectiveness of this age-old productivity tool.
August 15, 2016

Many people use to-do lists in an effort to get more work done.

But to-do lists may actually hurt small-business owners' productivity. For those planning to get too much done in a day, their lists may be too long to ever really get completed. As a result, these tasks may get copied over to the next day and the next, becoming a perpetual to-do list item that may never get done. 

According to The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List by Janet Choi and Walter Chen of iDoneThis, 41 percent of to-do list items created on their app are never actually completed. Rather than boost productivity, to-do lists may hurt an individual's morale. 

But changing the way you use to-do lists may help you get things done. 

1. Pick a format for your to-do lists.

Will you be using pen and paper or a smartphone app for creating your to-do lists? Both can be effective, but you may want them to fit how you work. Consider sticking to the format that is most effective for you.

2. Pick two primary actions.

The night before, consider writing down two things that must be completed in order for the following day to be productive. Doing these tasks first before anything else may increase the likelihood they'll get completed.

You may also want to consider shutting down any distractions during this period of time to increase the odds of their completion.

3. Break down tasks.

Sometimes it's hard to complete items on a list because they can be too complex. Breaking down any complex item into sub-tasks on your to-do lists may help you effectively complete the task.
Tracking your accomplishments may also help you judge whether the completed items on your to-do list are contributing to the company's overall mission. 
For example, if a task is to prepare a presentation for new customers, you may want to break it down into three parts on the list: write an outline, prepare a PowerPoint and practice the presentation.

4. Match urgency and importance.

Prioritization of any task on your list can be important to completion. Consider having to-do lists that only have items on them that are urgent or important to the company for that day or week. 
If something can be completed next week, consider keeping it off the list today and add a reminder to add it the following week.

5. Categorize similar tasks.

Grouping items that are like each other or take similar skills to complete may help you get through your to-do list. This may even shorten the time it takes to get tasks done.
Let's say you have multiple reviews of staff members due in the same week. Consider working on them consecutively since comparing and contrasting team members at the same time may help make the task easier.

6. Commit to the list.

Many times lists don't get done because of the lack of commitment to completing items in the order listed. Other distractions may come up during the day, or you may want to focus on items that are more fun or easier to do first.

After the order of the daily list is created, try to stick to it, unless urgency or importance of that item changes during the day. Doing the most unpleasant tasks first may help you resist that temptation.

7. Schedule tasks with dates and times.

Mapping items on the list to daily times may help with commitment. Having an "appointment" with a task may also lower the amount of possible distractions. Consider leaving time during the day to accept distractions and unexpected tasks that demand your attention.

8. Drop or move up tasks that have been on your to-do lists for a week.

Tasks that remain on the list for weeks really should not be there at all. Consider these items “someday” tasks with no real urgency or importance and take it off your list for now.

9. Keep a parallel accomplishments list.

Once an item is checked off the to-do list, consider adding it to a daily or weekly accomplishments list in order to feel proud of what has been achieved. This may prevent you from getting dragged down by the size of the list, and may help you acknowledge all the work you've done.
Tracking your accomplishments may also help you judge whether the completed items on your to-do list are contributing to the company's overall mission, and if you should delegate tasks to a member of your team to free up your time.

10.Get an accountability partner.

If you're having a problem sticking to your to-do list, consider asking someone to be an accountability partner. This person may help you review your accomplishments at the end of the day. If someone else is watching, you may be more likely to complete your to-do list—or you may need to have a credible explanation as to why they didn't get done.
How do you effectively use to-do lists?
For more tips to help you stay productive on your next business trip, access Business as Pleasure: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Travel.
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