How to Write a to-Do List That You Will Actually Do

The to-do list is probably one of the most common task and goal tracking strategies. But the problem with long and overly ambitious to-do lists is that they can overwhelm us with how much there is still to do, leaving us struggling to prioritize or even not knowing where to start. A long list can also increase our desire to multitask, which will eventually make us less productive .

Here’s how to make a short, sweet, and effective to-do list.

How long should a to-do list be?

A good to-do list (or set of lists) contains five to ten tasks, but no more than a dozen in total. While there is no magic number, research shows that we can have a hard time making decisions when we are presented with more options than this.

One strategy is to make a list of five to eight work-related (study or family) tasks to complete during the day, and a separate list of two to three household or personal tasks. Separate categorization can reduce confusion and help you prioritize, which you can break down into tasks that are important, urgent, both, or neither.

Focus your to-do list on the current day, rather than the rest of the week or longer, so you can complete (or at least try to complete) a complete list by the end of the day.

Depending on the day, your to-do list may include only one achievable task .

Break it down into small or micro tasks

Your short to-do list should also be clear, specific, and broken down into small, manageable tasks. “Working on a working draft” probably won’t seem realistic. Instead, write down the specific email you need to send, the meeting you need to schedule, the section of the report you need to write, etc.

You can even break down an already small task into microtasks : logging into a computer, opening Gmail, opening an email from a colleague, etc. Maybe a dozen microtasks will make up your entire list if that motivates you to turn things off.


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