Whether you’re managing an entire department, a team of three, or just yourself, task management is undoubtedly a key part of your routine — and depending on the workload, an essential part as well.
A clear and structured plan, like a to-do list, puts you in control of your day, makes it easier to complete tasks, and enables you to become more productive since it eliminates ambiguity and assigns accountability.
Why are to-do lists important?
To-do lists are important because they serve as a roadmap for your monthly, weekly, or day-to-day task management. By setting daily goals and creating a visual schedule to guide the progress of your tasks, you’re more likely to:
- Remain focused on end goals.
- Become more productive.
- Reduce work-related stress and anxiety.
- Organize priorities to keep on top of responsibilities.
- Complete tasks in a timely manner.
How to make a to-do list: 15 effective to-do list techniques
Whether you’re just getting started or looking for ways to improve your existing lists, here are 15 tips to help you create your own to-do list:
1. Choose a to-do list method that works best for you.
Before you start your to-do list, choose the best task management for you. Whether your goal is to track task progress, view your entire task landscape, or quickly capture daily to-do’s, below are some common task management methods to consider.
This is a classic to-do list format. Whether you choose to use pen and paper or a task management solution, a checklist is a go-to method due to its simplicity. As you complete tasks that you’ve listed, add a checkmark or cross them out as they’re completed.
Top digital notetaking apps
- Google Keep
- Voice notes
Kanban boards are typically used to easily visualize and track the progress and status of tasks. The board is broken down into the various stages of a workflow, and tasks are moved through the stages progressively as their status changes. Below are examples of a personal kanban board and a team kanban board:
|New tasks or tasks that have not been prioritized
|Tasks that are not defined by a deadline or that can be pushed back to make time for priority tasks
|Tasks with defined deadlines
|Time-sensitive tasks that need to be completed ASAP
|New tasks, or tasks that have not been prioritized
|Tasks that need immediate attention
|Tasks that are WIP
|Tasks that are currently on pause due to missing information or delays
Keeping a calendar view of your tasks makes it easy to maintain a time-sensitive view of work, which is a great solution for managing deadlines and large workloads with many moving parts. If you use Google Calendar, Teams, or Outlook, schedule tasks so that you’re alerted of important deadlines.
2. Build a to-do list, not a wish list.
Avoid feeling overwhelmed by creating a to-do list that you can act on. Leave off tasks that can’t be immediately completed or aren’t realistic. If it helps, keep one list for immediate actions and keep another list for ideas or tasks that can wait until your priority items are done.
3. Avoid rigidity.
The biggest mistake you can make when creating a to-do list is mistaking structure for rigidity. To-do lists should be organized but not inflexible. Structure allows you to organize your day, motivates you to be more productive, and make time for incidentals or unexpected changes. Rigidity makes it difficult to accommodate flex tasks or adapt to changing requirements.
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4. Add deadlines to each item.
Include a deadline, whether firm or flexible, to motivate you to complete tasks in a timely and time-efficient manner. By adding a deadline to your tasks, you can “hack” your brain into getting more done because you know how long you have to complete them.
5. Focus on timed monotasking, not sporadic multitasking.
If you have a full to-do list, you may think jumping from task to task will help you get more done — but it’s actually the opposite. Multitasking is jumping from half-done task to half-done task, which takes away from focused work time. By monotasking and giving yourself a certain amount of time to complete tasks, you can remain focused and productive.
6. Digitize your to-do list.
There’s nothing worse than creating the perfect to-do list … and then accidentally throwing it away, spilling coffee on it, or losing it in a shuffle of papers. With a digital to-do list or workflow management solution, your to-do list is secured, backed up, and customized to your preferences.
Whether it’s a simple app for individuals (like Todoist) or a more complex system built for teams (such as a low-code workflow management platform), take advantage of the benefits of using a digital to-do list, like multiple views, automatic notifications and alerts, collaboration support, and automated emails.
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7. As soon as something comes up, jot it down.
When a good idea pops into your head, don’t trust yourself to recall it later on. Write it down or add it to your digital list.
Distractions are rampant, whether you’re working at an office or working from home, and they can be an obstacle to capturing and retaining new ideas. Rather than taking a chance you’ll remember it later, get into the habit of adding these ideas to a running list that you can access anytime. If it’s a paper list, keep a notebook handy. If it’s a digital list, make sure it’s synced to access from all your devices.
8. Build a customized organization system that works for you.
Your to-do list is personal. It should be organized in a way that works best for you and no one else.To keep track of your tasks in a way that works best for you, create a customized system of organization to stay on top of tasks. Whether you color code tasks, add labels, define tasks by time commitment, or categorize by topic or priority, a system that’s built by you can help keep you organized.
9. Organize tasks by similarity or priority.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your ever-growing workload, pause and assess which tasks have higher priority and which tasks are similar in nature. Then tackle them in that order. By taking care of the tasks considered ASAP or high priority first, you can relieve some pressure before moving on to lower priority items. To figure out which items on your to-do list are most critical, categorize them with an Eisenhower Matrix:
10. Keep it high-level.
One purpose of a to-do list is to provide a fast, easily accessible overview of the tasks that require your attention at a specific point in time. To make this easier and more helpful, include only the amount of detail necessary to complete the task.
11. Create separate to-do lists for big projects.
While some tasks are simpler and don’t need a lot of detail to be executed, others may need to be thoroughly explained to ensure the quality of the end results. For cases like this, consider moving it into your calendar or keeping a dedicated list for it so that all the needs, details, and constraints are accounted for.
12. Watch out for time pits.
Every to-do list has them. These are the tasks that seem straightforward but get complicated and sticky once they’re underway. They always take up more time than planned and may have dependencies on our collaborators.
To keep on top of stragglers and time-consuming tasks, set to-do list boundaries like:
- Complete requests same-day if they are received by a certain time; push them to tomorrow if they are received anytime after then.
- Set focus time in your calendar for flex tasks or time work time. Once the hour is up, move on to other tasks.
- Immediately add tasks to your to-do tracker as soon as they come in so you’re aware of what’s on your plate.
13. Review your to-do list regularly.
To-do lists aren’t one-and-done and change frequently based on your responsibilities and priorities, so consider making time in your calendar to review your to-do list at least three times a day.
- Morning: After you’ve checked your emails and looked at your calendar of events for the day, take a look at your to-do list and adjust accordingly.
- Midday: After your lunch break, take a look at your progress. If you’re behind on tasks, is there something you can do to change that? If you’re ahead on tasks, is there anything you’ve been putting off that you can get started on?
- End of day: As you’re winding down your workday, take another look at your to-do list and strategize a plan for tomorrow. Is there something you can move forward that’s not urgent? Are there any priority tasks that you need to get done first thing in the morning? With tomorrow’s expectations outlined, you can reduce any workday anxieties and wake up feeling ready to take on the day.
14. Schedule communication-related tasks.
Many of today’s common messaging platforms allow users to schedule outgoing messages, which can help you get a head start on any communication-related tasks. Whether it’s sending an answer to a question, following up on a request, or — in today’s remote-first world — sharing something during a person’s designated work hours, run through your list at the end of the day and schedule messages to get a headstart on tomorrow’s tasks.
15. Start your day with a scheduled or automated to-do list.
In addition to scheduling messages for others, you can also schedule messages for yourself. To help keep you organized, start your morning with a scheduled message delivering your to-do list — whether it’s a full list of tasks, priorities, follow-ups, or reminders.
If you’re using a digital to-do list or a workflow management software, you may be able to automate this activity. With an automated daily feed, that’s two steps you can cut out of your daily routine.
Effectively organize your to-do list with Pipefy
The more organized and personalized your to-do list is, the more effective it will be. For managing your to-do list, look for tools that offer a balance of structure and flexibility, and between individual and collaborative views.
With Pipefy, you and your team can keep track of important tasks, deadlines, and assignments from a single platform. Plus, you can keep track of your to-do list easily and effectively with multiple views, and never miss a deadline with scheduled notifications.
Pipefy’s low-code automation streamlines the way you and your team collaborate and communicate, and dashboard capabilities give you insight into how you can become more productive. For teams managing a large volume of requests, easily customizable smart forms make it easy to request information that is automatically routed directly into your personal to-do list or your team’s shared to-do list.
Say goodbye to disorganization and delays, and say hello to improved structure and productivity with Pipefy.