How to Write a To-do List You’ll Actually Use

With all the amazing tools out there for managing your projects, schedule, and team, you’d think the humble to-do list would fall by the wayside.

And yet many of us continue to rely on this old favorite because it’s simple, it’s flexible, and it can be used in a million different ways!

In fact, I know very few entrepreneurs who don’t maintain some sort of to-do list as a way to keep track of urgent tasks for the day, week, or month.

And yet, if I’m being honest, most of us aren’t making the best use of this workflow workhorse. A to-do list can be a tool for keeping work on track and projects on time, or it can be a disorganized scrap heap of business-related worries and neglected tasks.

In my experience, most people’s to-do lists are completely overwhelming and unusable. They’re so disorganized and all-encompassing that they fail to provide any real clarity!

Sound woefully familiar? Has your to-do list become a giant list of everything, most of which never gets done?

If so, I’m here to help! A truly successful to-do list has 3 traits:

Effective to-do lists have FOCUS

If it helps you to maintain a document that’s just a massive brain-dump, by all means do! But don’t confuse that document with your to-do list.

This list must remain focused on your most important tasks, and not attempt to encompass everything that’s on your mind or in the queue for consideration.

Prioritize your top 3 or 5 or 7 tasks for the day (or week, or month) and leave it at that.

An effective to-do list is actually quite narrow in scope because its purpose is to direct you toward the actions and activities that need your attention most urgently.

Effective to-do lists contain TASKS

I know, I know, sounds self-explanatory!

But here’s the thing: Most items on our to-do lists aren’t actually tasks.

Say what?

It’s true! For instance:

“Hire a new business manager” is not a task, it’s a project. It’ll take multiple people multiple days and involve many steps along the way.

“Email Jane and set an appointment for an interview” is a task; it’s a discreet, simple action that can be completed by one person quickly and efficiently. 

When you are writing or refining your to-do list, make sure that everything on it is something that you alone are responsible for, and can complete. Otherwise you’re cluttering it up with non-tasks.

Effective to-do lists are SIMPLE

When you let your to-do list become a jumbled mess of ideas, reminders, and half-baked projects, it loses its impact. You need to keep it simple and streamlined enough that you’ll actually use it.

This sounds trite, but it’s true!

Fancy planners and electronic gizmos are fun, but if they aren’t helping you cross stuff off your list, then ditch ‘em. There’s nothing wrong with a Google Doc or page in a paper notebook, especially if those formats actually work for you. Create and edit your list in a way that feels natural and productive to you!

To-do lists are fantastic for business owners who have lots of tasks to manage, and need help narrowing down their focus.

They’re NOT ideal for procrastinators who get bogged down in details and can’t move forward. (Amazing tools for those folks can be found right here.)

So before you start overhauling your list, make sure it’s the right tool for the job. Then get these three tips into play, and watch as your to-do list becomes a priceless tool for workflow acceleration!



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