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5 Simple ways to actually Use your to-do lists

By Marques • Jun 10th, 2007 • Category: Daily Planning, Habits, Productivity

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You have your to-do lists, you know how important it is to use them. Here are 5 simple ways to actually start using them.

On a recent post, I discussed how important it is to create to-do lists to organize yourself and increase productivity and using them. But creating them it’s not enough: you have to actually use them.

On this post I’ll go through 5 simple ways to take you from the creating step into the using step. After all, if you don’t use them, why creating them in the first place?

Actually it’s not true. There is a positive aspect just from creating your to-do lists and that is training your brain to prioritize tasks and funneling “brain resources” to the task at hand, but this requires a level of organizational thinking that most of us still haven’t achieved. So, the best place to start is to create a daily to-do list and make good use of it.

  • Carry your to-do list with you. Always create the habit of carrying your to-do list with you. On a paper, on a PDA, on a mobile phone, doesn’t matter. Just have it with you at all times. This way, even if you are out of the office or out of the house you’ll be able to check it.
  • Look at your to-do list often. Make a habit of looking at your to-do list on a regular basis. In the beginning you might even want to setup a recurring alarm on your mobile or watch to remind you of this. Not to remind you of something in your to-do list but just to make you look at it. By frequently looking at your to-do list you’ll have a quick overview of your priority tasks and with time you are actually teaching your brain how to productively divide resources such as time. And this way there are less chances of forgetting something. Also, by looking at it often you acknowledge that it exists and is there to help you. In time you’ll start doing this almost unconsciously.
  • Learn how to adjust you to-do list. Let’s face it, you can’t possibly predict everything that is going to happen throughout your day. Trying to stick to your to-do list items in the order you first planned them is actually counter-productive. Something unexpected might happen that will require you to spend more time on a certain task or a new high-priority task just pops-up out of nothing. How to cope with those things? Make your to-do list flexible. Shuffling your list items around might not be such a bad idea if it makes you more productive. But don’t slack. Do not postpone tasks to the next day unless they become impossible to achieve. If you included a task on your list it’s because it’s something important to be done and postponing will only generate chaos. If it’s not something so important, maybe it should not be there in the first place.
  • Routine does not belong in your list. There are everyday tasks that one must do. Going to the gym, walking your dog, etc. are tasks that are part of your routine and should be intrinsic to your day. Therefore these tasks should not have a place in your to-do list. The more cluttered your list is, the more hard it gets to actually manage and strike-out every item. Routine is exactly that: routine. Use your to-do list for important things that should not be postponed and you need to be reminded of.

  • Reward yourself. This is a great way to learn how to manage your to-do lists. By instinct we are much more prone to get something done if there is a reward in it for us more than just feeling productive. Start with small rewards on a daily basis for having completed your list: a special sweet after dinner or buying that book that everyone is talking about and you want to have are just small examples. From here, you can aim for bigger things on a weekly or even monthly basis: a weekend out of the city for having completed your daily to-do lists for a full month is a great motivator.


If you start using these tips, the process of creating to-do lists to actually using them and taking the best out of them is easy. Don’t let your list be a monster that is there to nag you all day long. Make it a friend that is there to help you reach your productivity goals.

You have any other tips to actually start using your to-do lists? Share them with us. I bet everyone here would love to read them.

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4 Responses »

  1. Great tips. I actually tend to make my to-do lists too big and end up shifting some of the tasks for the next day. I’ll try to make good use of your advice, specially points 3 and 4. Of course point 5 is a must also. :)

  2. Thanks for the compliment Jackson. I’m glad you liked it.
    Try cutting everything that is routine from your to-do list. The list becomes smaller and more manageable. Also, if your routine tasks are in the list, you’ll probably end up using more time to do them.

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