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Too Many People Write To-Do Lists Wrongly. Here’s HOW to Make a To-Do List that’s Actually Doable.

A list of vague wishes. A series of complex tasks or multifaceted projects. Maybe a collection of intentions, goals, or aspirations. If this is what it looks like, there’s no wonder that you’re struggling to see anything on your to-do list that’s actually doable.

I have written before about the value of a to-do list for me – and the many mis-steps my clients have made in writing effective ones. Whether it’s writing down activities that are simply impossible to do or filling them with every thought under the sun (which again, aren’t actually actionable), the to-do list might be one of the most misunderstood tools a businessperson has.

So, at this point, it seems time for an intervention. Here are five steps toward a to-do list that is actually doable. Because surely that’s what you want from a to-do list anyway, no? Make sure your to-do lists are all of the following.

Specific.

The first step in making sure that your to-do list is actually doable is to make sure that it is specific.

When we’re talking about to-do lists, the smaller the better. Think about it: every task written down should be immediately actionable. You shouldn’t have to think about what needs to be done to complete a task on your list. That should be done as we write it down.

Categorised.

One of the most overlooked aspects of productivity is the fact that similar tasks are best done together. Your mind is simply much more streamlined and efficient when you it has to only think in one particular way.

So, batch the tasks into similar types. Whether that’s creative tasks, analytical or administrative ones – you’ll get much more done if you batch your tasks and don’t have to flick between different modes of thinking.

Organised.

You now know what you need to do, sure. But now you need to think about HOW you are going to do it – and when. The process of making a to-do list actually doable starts here.

So, plan your week every week, grouping together different types of task and putting them all in order of priority.

If you need to complete some creative tasks, ensure that you have some protected time in order to get them done. If you have a load of administrative stuff to do, you might find that the afternoon is the best time for this.

Ranked.

I just mentioned prioritising your tasks – and one of the best ways to do this is with reference to impact and influence.

These are the criteria that I use to determine whether a task – or a habit – is of high priority or low. A task of high impact would be one that gives immediate results to you. A highly influential task, meanwhile, will be one that enables further changes or tasks to be made more easily.

You can find out more about this in my article on the HOW Skill Set for managers.

End-Dated.

Too many people put a task on a to-do list and imagine it to be pretty much done already. Unfortunately, my experience suggests that we can’t take that for granted.

Give every task on your to-do list a deadline – a date by which it will be completed. If you don’t do this, the risk is that it will keep slipping away. It will become endlessly deferred to the point that you will forget about it. And this is one of the main reasons for people’s inability to finish projects.

And if you want a to-do list that is actually doable – or that actually gets done – you don’t want this to happen.