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How to make an effective to-do list

To-do lists are the simplest planning tool and all variants and forms of planning include it. To-do lists are the foundation of any major planning system.

Whether you use a template-based planner, a bullet journal, a notebook or simply a post it - all of these planning systems incorporate a basic to-do list in them. And that's what I want to talk about today.

Since a to-do list is such a basic element of the planning system, it is crucial that we understand how we can make the best use of it. Which is why, in this blog post, I'll be outlining a few ways in which we can make our to-do lists to be more effective.

What does an effective to-do list mean?

An effective to-do list means that the list consisents of actionable, high-priority tasks which can be completed throughout the day.

How can we make our to-do list more effective?

There are several ways to do this. Let's look at a few of them.

Try 'the top 3 things' method:

This is one of the best ways to get started with making the to-do list more effective. Out of all the to-dos you might have, pick the top 3 non-negotiable tasks. These are usually tasks of high importance and urgency, found in the first quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix. By recognising the top 3 things you have to get done, you give your full attention to what your priorities are instead of getting anxious over the long list of the remaining to-dos. It's better to get nothing else but these top 3 things done, instead of ticking of other trivial tasks without getting to the actual important ones.

Get very specific:

When writing your task down, try not to be vague about it. You're more likely to ge that task done if you let your brain know as many details about the task as possible. Being very specific about the task while adding it to your to-do list lets you have more clarity about the task itself and you are more likely to get it done that way.

Brain dump and then pick:

A lot of times our to-do lists are not that effective because they are a running list of ALL the things that we want to get done at some point. And that can be overwhelming. So instead of adding all your to-dos to your list for today, it can be a better idea to just brain dump all of your tasks in a notebook or on your computer and then delegate those tasks to each day as it comes. Be picky with what you want to get done that day.

Start small and then build your way up:

Start off by under-committing yourself. The biggest mistake we can make while writing out a to-do list it to to fit in a LOT of tasks which even the 24 hours in the day don't allow to be completed. This leaves us feeling disappointed and then a lot of times, we just give up on our planning systems thinking that they don't work that well for us.

Well, there's a way around it. Start off by doing less. See if you can get to all of these tasks first. If you find no problems in doing more, then start to add them to your list. Adding more things to tick off is always a more pleasant feeling than having to cross off a few things because you couldn't get to them.

Schedule that task to see if you can get it done:

I'm going to be coming out with a time-tracking video soon, so stay tuned for that one!

The way you can see if your to-do list is long or short enough for the day is to actually allot a time for you to do all your tasks. See if you have enough time on your hand to get to all of them. If you do, then your to-do list is pretty effective. Trying doing this for a few days till you master the art of making effective to-do lists.

Write actionable tasks:

You are more likely to get the task done if it says 'read chapter 8' instead of just 'chemistry'. Your brain needs to know what it can expect as an outcome at the end of that task. Write down the end goal you want to achieve for that task in your to-do list. When your brain can see you having done it, you can actually get to it more easily.

Write down tasks that are clear, actionable and to the point.

Have a consistent planning system:

When you have an inconsistent planning system, meaning you either don't stick with it for too long or just move to and fro between systems, you are going to experience more friction in actually carrying out the tasks. Our brains love automations and it's easier for us to get to the tasks when we know that we can find our to-do list in the same space and format, every time.

I've been using the bullet journal/ planning system for a year and a half now and it has stuck with me. I have seen a massive improvement in the effectiveness of my to-do list because I've a set format to write things down. Things are consistent and I can get through most of my tasks now which is always a good thing to have. So create your planning system for yourself. Let it be your base to progress forward.

Take time to review what works and what doesn't:

An effective system is the one that is periodically reviewed and improved. Since we are looking at making an effective to-do list as a long term system that we're incorporating in our lives, it makes good sense to review what works from time to time. What works, stays. What doesn't, can be altered.

Have a parallel running list:

If you're someone who cannot survive without having every task down on paper, hello, welcome to my world. This is similar to 'brain dump then pick' but it comes with a difference. In the former way, we first write down all tasks that come to mind and then choose from those for the day.

But this way is adopted as they day goes by. During your day, whatever new tasks come to mind, add them to this parallel list. You can then choose from these for the upcoming days or even if you feel like you have a little more room in your day to fit in some more tasks.

Keep it simple:

Simplicity is sustainable. We can quickly get tired of complex systems because we spend too much time to set them up instead of executing them. So start simple and keep it simple as you go. We can keep adding layers and personal touches to it as we get better at these systems. But don't start with complex planning systems that require to go back and forth between platforms and smaller systems.

I hope that these 10 tips are helpful for you to get started with an effective to-do list. Let me know if they work for you!

Watch my video on How to make an effective to do list here:

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