How To Organize Your To-Do List? (6 Helpful Tips)

How to organize your to-do list? A notebook with a blank to-do list.

Many people know the importance of a to-do list but often struggle with organizing their list in a way that is efficient and will increase productivity. In this article, you will find 6 tips to help you organize your to-do list. They include:

  • create separate lists for tasks with different timeframes
  • allot an amount of time for specific tasks
  • prioritize items of importance
  • keep categories separated on different lists
  • use different styles for separate categories
  • experiment with different styles

1. Create Separate To-Do Lists For Different Timeframes

You can create to-do lists for various different timeframes such as daily, weekly, and monthly. However, it is best to keep items with different timeframes on separate to-do lists.

Typically your monthly to-do lists are broken down into smaller achievable weekly to-do lists, and your weekly to-do lists are further broken down into smaller achievable daily to-do lists.

It can be quite daunting or even discouraging seeing a monthly goal on the same list as your daily goals. Especially when you are struggling to be productive in completing items on your daily to-do list.

For example, say you have a monthly goal of writing the first ten pages of your university thesis. It can be quite daunting seeing that item on a to-do list when your daily goal might only be to write the first introductory paragraph.

You might be thinking, “how will I ever write ten pages when I can barely write the first paragraph.” Tasks seem more attainable when they are broken down into achievable items on a shorter timeframe to-do list.

Therefore, it is better to keep separate to-do lists for different timeframes. Keep in mind that the completion of items on a to-do list with a shorter timeframe will eventually amount to you achieving your big-picture goals.

2. Try Allotting A Certain Amount Of Time To Specific Items On Your To-Do List

Some people find that assigning a start time for items on your to-do list can be beneficial. Not only that, but they also allot a certain amount of time to complete that item. This is especially helpful for those that procrastinate.

When you assign a specific amount of time to an item on your to-do list, it creates a mini-deadline for you to finish that task. Some people perform best under pressure. Knowing that a deadline is fast approaching motivates them to complete a task.

Scheduling tasks at specific hours throughout the day can significantly increase productivity and help keep you on track. It should be noted, however, that it is important to allot an accurate amount of time required to complete each task.

Individuals are often over-ambitious with how much they can complete in an hour, a morning, or even a day. It is important to set meaningful and achievable to-do lists, which will take some practice. However, as you become more experienced with creating a to-do list, you will recognize how long it takes you to complete similar tasks.

3. Prioritize Items Of Importance On Your To-Do List

A to-do list can help you organize your thoughts and prioritize items of importance.

Before writing a to-do list, you can easily become overwhelmed with different tasks that require completion, or deadlines that are fast approaching. Your brain recognizes that you have a lot you need to get done, but it isn’t always the best at determining which item to complete first.

As you create your to-do list, assign a priority to each item. An item’s priority (or level of importance) can be determined by its deadline, size of the task (amount of work required), or the amount of detail/concentration required.

Next, arrange your to-do list in order with the most important items at the top, and the least important items at the bottom. Now you have a clear understanding of which items you should be working on first, and why.

Tasks requiring a lot of detail and concentration are best tackled in the morning when you are feeling fresh. Often you feel lethargic immediately after lunch as your body digests food. However, energy levels perk up again in the early afternoon and you slowly begin to feel tired and hungry as the end of the workday approaches.

Pay attention to how your body feels throughout the day and keep this in mind when prioritizing or scheduling items on your to-do list. The boring and mundane tasks should be completed after lunch or towards the end of the day. Items that require a high level of concentration should be prioritized during your most efficient hours.

Likewise, different days of the week should also be considered when organizing items of importance on your to-do list. Many individuals struggle to be productive during Monday mornings (tired from the weekend), or Friday afternoons (excited for the weekend). 

4. Keep Categories Separate By Using Different To-Do Lists

To organize your to-do list, it helps to keep items from different categories on separate lists. Examples of different categories could include: ‘items in the garage that need organizing’, ‘running errands’, ‘deadlines to meet at work this month’, or ‘items that need addressing in today’s morning meeting’.

It wouldn’t make sense to include items in the garage that need organizing on the same to-do list as the one you’ll be referencing when addressing your employees in today’s morning meeting. To avoid confusion and to ensure you stay focused on the task at hand, keep to-do lists separated by different categories.

Furthermore, many individuals find it helpful to record to-do lists for different categories in separate locations. They might utilize a journal and pen for all professional related items, and the notes application on their phone for chores around the house.

Regardless of how you decide to structure your to-do lists, keeping different categories separate will help reduce distractions and improve efficiency when focusing on a specific task. 

5. Use Different Styles Of To-Do Lists For Separate Categories

One size does not fit all. There are countless different ways that you are able to create and maintain a to-do list.

Many still prefer the old-fashioned pen and paper, while others choose to use applications or programs on their phones, tablets, or computers. Furthermore, many prefer to keep one to-do list category on their smartphone and keep track of another category with pen and paper.

If you are using a to-do list to track progress, you will want to refer back to it at a later date. Therefore, make sure you are recording it in a place that is archivable.

A to-do list on the back of an envelope might be all that is required when creating a list of what you need to clean before your dinner guests come over. However, it might not be the best place for you to record your weekly deadlines in a business setting. Keep in mind, a method that works well for one to-do list might not be as fitting for another.

Some of the more common ways to organize a to-do list are mentioned below. Also included are the pros and cons of each method. When reading through them, think about how you could implement the different styles in your life.

Sticky Notes/Scrap Paper

  • Pros:
    • a quick way to write a to-do list
    • allows you to literally cross items off once complete
    • can format the to-do list however you want
  • Cons:
    • the list typically ends up in the recycling bin after complete, thus no way to refer back to it at a later date

Journal With Pen and Paper

  • Pros:
    • can organize to-do lists by date/day of week
    • easy to refer back to at a later date
    • allows you to literally cross items off once complete
    • can format the to-do list however you want
  • Cons:
    • journals can be bulky, an extra book you need to carry around with you throughout your day

Digital Word Documents (Note applications)

  • Pros:
    • written on your phone, tablet or, a computer which you typically already have with you, thus no need to carry an extra journal around
    • can organize to-do lists by date/day of week
    • easy to refer back to at a later date
  • Cons:
    • no literal satisfaction of crossing an item off once complete
    • depending on the application you use, it is typically not as easy to format as pen and paper

Calendar Applications

  • Pros:
    • can provide notifications when you should be starting or ending an item on your to-do list
    • written on your phone, tablet or, a computer which you typically already have with you, thus no need to carry an extra journal around
    • can organize to-do lists by date/day of week
    • easy to refer back to at a later date
  • Cons:
    • no literal satisfaction of crossing an item off once complete
    • depending on the application you use, it is typically not as easy to format as pen and paper
    • allotting a certain amount of time to an item on your to-do list may cause additional stress if you are unable to finish the task within that time

6. Experiment With Different Styles Of To-Do Lists (Find What Works Best For You)

Experiment with different to-do list methods to find the one that works best for your specific scenario.

You may initially think that using a calendar application to schedule your to-do list is the best option in a professional setting. It allows you to allot a specific time to each item, mini-deadlines are created as it approaches the time to start the next task, and notifications can be set as reminders.

However, in practice, you might find that using a calendar application in a professional setting isn’t the best option for you. Notifications that alert you when it is time to start the next task might be more of an interruption than a helpful tool. Furthermore, allotting an amount of time to each specific task might cause anxiety as the clock runs out and you are nowhere near completion. 

You need to find what works best for you.

Ultimately, a to-do list should be helping you write your thoughts down, prioritize what needs to be completed and make you more productive. If you find the style of to-do list you are using isn’t serving its purpose, it is time to try an alternative method.

Don’t be afraid to keep switching methods until you find a solution that works best for you.

The realization that there are 86,400 seconds each day. What are you doing today, so that tomorrow you are a step closer to where you want to be? If not now, then when?

eightysixfourhundred, make them count

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Hi, I'm James! I want to help you make the most of your day by providing helpful tips and informative articles on motivation, time management, productivity, and happiness.

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