Why Are To-Do Lists Important? (And Effective Techniques)


Why Are To Do Lists Important? An individual writing a to-do list.

When you find productivity is slowing down or you are struggling with time-management, go back to the basics and create a to-do list. In its simplest form, a to-do list is a way of organizing your thoughts by writing down and prioritizing items that need to be completed. In this article, we review several reasons why to-do lists are important and provide different techniques to make your to-do lists more effective.

Why Are To-Do Lists Important?

To-do lists are important for a number of reasons, including to help:

  • organize your thoughts
  • prioritize deadlines
  • remember important ideas
  • provide you with a focus and a direction
  • recognize that you have made progress
  • make achievable daily goals
  • keep you motivated

Keep reading the remaining sections to have a better understanding of why to-do lists are important.

To-Do Lists Help Organize Your Thoughts

To-do lists are important because they help you organize your thoughts. Until you write down what your thoughts are, they are just a jumble of ideas inside your brain.

When you write them down, thoughts become real, actionable items, and hold you accountable to follow through on them. Not only do they organize your thoughts, but to-do lists help organize your day, week, month, or year.

Regardless of what you are working on or trying to accomplish, a to-do list provides you with an outline to do that. 

To-Do Lists Help Prioritize Deadlines

When you have a busy schedule and multiple demanding deadlines are approaching fast, a to-do list will help you prioritize the tasks which are the most important.

When you are able to prioritize items on a to-do list, you are able to finish each item in its entirety before moving onto the next. There is nothing more inefficient than bouncing around between multiple tasks as different ideas pop into your mind.

When you have a clear direction on which task needs to be completed first, you are able to focus on one task at a time.

To-Do Lists Help You To Remember 

Humans are forgetful in nature. This comes as no surprise, as there is a lot going on in our brain. As technology advances, our attention is constantly being consumed by smartphones, social media, notifications, breaking news alerts, the list goes on.

In fact, a recent study reported by UNC estimates that the average adult makes over 35,000 decisions a day.

By writing down a to-do list, it helps you get your thoughts on paper. Furthermore, it helps you remember the important items that you must focus on, as well as block out any distractions.

To-Do Lists Provide You With A Focus And A Direction

Similar to how a to-do list helps prioritize different items, a to-do list also gives you a focus. When you get to whatever it is that you require a to-do list for, you know exactly what needs to be completed in the timeframe you have.

There is no wasted time reviewing what was completed in the past or deciding what needs to be completed now. You start at the top of your list and work at accomplishing the different items one-by-one.

To-Do Lists Help Recognize That You Have Made Progress

There is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you have completed an item on your to-do list. This is apparent when you are able to check off an item as finished. You feel fulfilled knowing that you have accomplished a goal, or an item that required completing. Ultimately, you are recognizing that you have made progress. 

To-Do Lists Help You Make Achievable Daily Goals

It can be intimidating when you begin to think of all the work that needs to be completed as you work towards a larger, long-term goal. However, when you break-down the big picture into a smaller timeframe, you are able to set achievable goals for the timeframe you are working in.

As you consistently put in the work over an extended period of time, the items you complete on your to-do list will be taking you one step closer to achieving that long-term goal. 

To-Do Lists Help Motivate You

To expand on the point above on achievable daily goals, to-do lists help motivate you to keep working hard. If you always have a to-do list that you are referencing, you know what needs to be completed next.

For example, if you have a long-term goal to lose 15 pounds of weight, initially it might seem daunting or unachievable. However, you can stay motivated to achieving your goal by breaking it up into smaller items on a daily to-do list.

A daily to-do list might include completing one hour of exercise, finishing your reusable water bottle by lunchtime and refilling it, planning a healthy meal and picking up ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner, etc.

When long-term goals are broken down into smaller tasks on a to-do list, you are able to stay focused and motivated to achieve what you set out to accomplish. 

Effective To-Do List Techniques?

Below you will find some effective to-do list techniques which include:

  • write to-do lists the day before
  • check items off once they are complete
  • add the date to your to-do list
  • don’t be over-ambitious with your to-do list
  • have a new to-do list for each day
  • be consistent in how you record your to-do list

1. Write To-Do Lists The Day Before

If you use a daily to-do list, write down tomorrow’s to-do list at the end of today. The same applies to different timeframes. If you use a weekly to-do list, write next week’s to-do list at the end of the day on Friday, or whenever you consider your week to be over.

Using this technique helps in two different ways:

  • Firstly, it is important to write down your next to-do list while you are in the right state of mind.
    • Writing a to-do list for a smaller-timeframe (day or week) should only take 5 to 15 minutes. It is something that should be easily completed at the end of each day (or timeframe). This is because ideas are still fresh and you are aware of what work was completed, and what needs to be tackled next.
    • Start making it a habit to write down your next to-do list before leaving your workspace for your current timeframe.
  • Secondly, when your next timeframe begins (tomorrow, next week, etc.), you are able to jump right into where you left off.
    • You are not wasting any time trying to determine what you should be accomplishing that day or the priority of different items.
    • Furthermore, leave your to-do list right in the center of your desk, or where ever your workspace is. That way when you arrive the next day, you see your to-do list and you get to work right away. There are no opportunities to be distracted.

2. Check Items Off To-Do List Once Complete

Instead of crossing off items on your to-do list, consider placing a checkmark beside items that have been completed. Or alternatively, in a different color pen than your list, write “Done.” next to completed items.

These alternatives still give you the figurative satisfaction of “crossing” completed items off your to-do list, however, they also allow you to come back to your list at a later date and be able to read what you accomplished.

3. Add A Date To All To-Do Lists

Dates are important. If you aren’t doing it already, start adding dates to everything you are writing down, it is a good habit to get into.

Timestamps are automatically created when you write anything digitally, but when writing things down by hand, you are required to add them yourself.

Adding dates to a to-do list enables you to look back at a later date and see what you accomplished, and when you accomplished it. This helps you track patterns and progress for days when you were more productive than others.   

4. Don’t Be Over-Ambitious With Your To-Do List

Things take time. It is important to have an achievable to-do list in the timeframe you set out to accomplish it. Not that you shouldn’t always be striving to accomplish more, but you also need to be realistic.

When you are consistently failing to complete your to-do list in the allotted timeframe, you begin to feel like you are just spinning your wheels and not progressing.

Completing items on your to-do list plays a large role on how you feel mentally. Likewise, when you get to the end of your timeframe and there are still several items left on your to-do list, you feel like you haven’t completed much. This takes away from the fact that you might be making some real progress, it’s just that your to-do list is over-ambitious. 

5. Write A New To-Do List Each Day (Or Timeframe)

If you are writing a daily to-do list, write one every day, or for every timeframe that your to-do list applies to. If you get to the end of the day and you were unable to complete all items, no worries. Put those items at the top of your list for the next day.

This allows you to do a few different things. By rewriting items on your to-do list the following day, it allows you to easily know which day you completed that item. Sometimes you will have items that aren’t completed for several timeframes or copied to multiple different days without completing the task.

If it becomes a reoccurring theme that several items on your list aren’t completed by the end of your timeframe, take a closer look into why this is happening. Items on your to-do list may be too big for the timeframe that you are allotting to complete them. If this is the case, consider splitting the item up into multiple smaller achievable goals.

Alternatively, you might just be procrastinating specific types of items and putting these off until a firm deadline requires you to complete them. If this is the case, take a close look at the reason why you are procrastinating a specific item and find a solution to overcome it. 

6. Avoid Using Sticky Notes To Write Down Your To-Do Lists

Although sticky notes are great for quick reminders, they are not the place you should be recording your to-do lists.

A to-do list should be written in an archivable location so you can find and review specific lists at a later date. This is hard to do with a sticky note that was thrown into the recycling bin.

Considering purchasing a small journal, notebook, or day planner if you prefer to write to-do lists by hand. Alternatively, you can create lists on your phone, tablet, or computer by using word documents, calendar applications, or notes applications.

Regardless of the method you choose to use, be consistent, and be sure you are able to mark items complete as progress is made.

Start Making A To-Do List Today

Start making a to-do list today. You will soon begin to notice an increase in productivity as you work to complete the items on your list in a given timeframe. Furthermore, you will find you have a more clear direction as you work towards big-picture goals.


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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James

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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