To-Do List Hacks That Will Flip Your Productivity Upside Down

How to Make A Do-Able To-Do List & Get Stuff Done

Emily Jordan
Sep 8, 2017 · 6 min read

To-do lists are great, until they aren’t.

They seem like great tools to keep us on track and remind us of what needs to get done, but most of us can admit we’re better at making them than we are at accomplishing them.

That’s because it’s easy to think of things we need to do, and it feels good to compile them into a list to make room in our heads for more stuff we need to do, but how often does your to-do list fail you? Or rather, how often do you fail your to-do list?

It’s the ultimate productivity disappointment, and let’s face it, the feeling you get when you scratch something off a to-do list is the whole reason behind making the list in the first place, right?

If you’re looking to get rid of poor productivity once and for all and revel in that scratch-off feeling, here are 6 simple to-do list hacks that will totally change your to-do list woes.

1. Give your list a good home.

Key word: home. The hardest to-do list to follow is the one that’s a nomad. Don’t make your list on a 2 by 2 sticky note that’s going to stick absolutely no where but where you won’t see it. Don’t make it on a random notepad from the console of your car just because that’s what was handy when the pile of daunting tasks overflowed from your brain.

If you actually want to get the items on your list done, write or type your list in a place that won’t get lost, that you will actually look at, and that can’t possibly take up residence in the cracks of your car seats or end up going for a spin in the washing machine. Type it in your phone. Write it in a notebook. Put it anywhere but on the back of a happy hour receipt if you care anything about your time.

2. Make one list instead of 10.

I can’t be the only one with a bad habit of making 10 tiny to-do lists instead of one big one, can I? You’re sitting at a stoplight on the way to work when — “Oh! Gotta put the flea medicine on the dogs today!” and you whip out your phone to a note and type in “flea meds.”

The light turns green, and two hours later you’re in some meeting paying super close attention of course, and you inevitably think of 6 more things you need to do tonight. You scribble them down in the margins of your fully-doodled meeting notebook, happy to release them from your head and onto the paper.

In an effort not to forget all of the things we want to remember to do, we often just grab the closest list-makable item in sight and go to town.

The problem with this is we never end up looking at all 5 mini-lists at once. Instead, we may see our flea med reminder a couple days later and find an entirely different list in some brand new purse compartment weeks after we made it. We don’t get things done when we need to get them, and sometimes, we don’t get them done at all. How’s that for productivity?

3) Categorize your list.

Alright, nothing crazy here, people. My two go-to categories for ultimate efficacy are simply “big picture” and “close-up.” Big picture items include things like lengthy projects that are not going to get done in a day or a weekend, and close-up items are smaller tasks that may contribute to the big picture, or might just be independent tasks on their own.

On that note…

4) Keep track of progression.

Sometimes, there are things on our lists that are kinda done but not really. “Send parent newsletter.” There are, like, 5 different steps involved in that task. Writing the email, gathering the email addresses, adding images/prettifying the email, etc. Perhaps you sat down to tackle this item and only got to the writing part. Make a note of that! If scratching something off the list feels nice, making progress (and noticing it!) also feels nice.

In addition, if you’ve got your “big picture” items and your “close-up” items, it can be extremely helpful to break down your big picture items into smaller tasks and keep track of your progress that way.

I have my grand to-do list as a note in my phone, and when I mostly complete a task but still want to add some final tweaks, I simply bold the item so that I know I don’t need to worry too, too much about it right now. Try monitoring your progress rather than focusing only on scratching items off completely.

5) Make a realistic daily list.

The absolute worst way to go about making a list is by writing everything you need to do and expecting yourself to get it all done TODAY. Personally, I like having a daily to-do list (even if it’s tiny), and I think this is a great productivity tool, however, be sure you’re making your list realistically. Don’t write down 8 different errands that are legitimately impossible to run in a single work day. Placing high expectations like that on yourself only overwhelms you and leaves you feeling like a failure when you reevaluate your list at the end of the day only to realize you’ve only done 2 things.

If you’re making a daily list — or even a weekly list — make it realistic, and don’t set yourself up for failure.

6) Don’t slice. Chisel.

Piggybacking on number 4 here: don’t just focus on slicing away items from your list. Chisel away at your list. Chisel away at a single item, even.

Productivity is not an all or nothing deal. It’s not just about “done” and “not done.” It’s about doing more than anything, and chiseling away at things is how we do them in order to eventually get them done. Shift your focus from the harshness of slicing items away, to the ever-present and consistent force of chiseling. It’s the way nature does things, and it’s the way we should do them, too. Good things take time. Give yourself some time to get things done, and chisel, rather than slice.

Take these 6 tips and make them your own so that you can conquer your to-do list and bask in productivity, not just once, but habitually!

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