How to write a to do list

I love a to do list – it can help me feel in control when I feel like I’m being pulled in a million different directions to do all the things. And crossing stuff off the list? So satisfying! 

But seeing everything written down can feel just as overwhelming, so how can you get started and feel like you’re making progress? 

Check out my tips… 

Step 1: Brain dump

Just get all the things that are in your head down onto the paper as clear and concise bullet points. 
And make sure they are all actions – so if you’re thinking “I wonder what we should have for dinner?” write that down as “decide what to have for dinner”.

Step 2: Categorise

Go through each point you’ve written down and decide which of the following categories they fall into:

  • JFDI (just f’ing do it!) tasks: things that are both essential for you to do (i.e. there is a significant risk / impact from not completing the task), and they are urgent with an imminent deadline (next few days). 
  • Proactive tasks: things that are essential for you to do, but they don’t have such a pressing deadline.
  • Satisfying tasks: things that you really want to get done as they would make you feel great, but they don’t have a specific deadline.
  • Eliminate tasks: things that don't really make a significant enough impact on your life and don't have a deadline.

Use different colours, different shaped bullet points, or number each task to put them into the relevant category.  

Step 3: Sense-check

Go back over your list and ask yourself:

  • Firstly review the 'eliminate' tasks - honestly, do you really need to use time and headspace on these? Ditch them!
  • Exactly how essential are those essential tasks? 
  • What specifically are the risks / impacts not completing them might bring? 
  • And how likely is that to happen? 
  • Are the ‘satisfying’ tasks genuinely going to enhance my life or are they just nice to have in an ideal world with unlimited time? 

Ultimately, you need to figure out whether there are any tasks that you don’t actually need to do and you could cross off your list right now. 

Most of us tend to put way too many things on our to do lists, and so put a whole heap of due pressure on ourselves. What could you let go of?

Step 4: Time-block

Block out a manageable chunk of timein your diary each day for the next week to complete your JFDI tasks. Doesn't matter if it's five minutes, or thirty minutes, whatever is feasible for you. Then set a reminder and treat it like you would any other appointment. 

If within your time-block you realise you have completed all your JFDI tasks, pick up some of the Proactive tasks and feel great about yourself for getting things done before they become urgent! 

Mark out an additional block of time each day (or every other day) to complete one Satisfying task. The risk with to do lists is that we only ever clear the urgent stuff, never making it to the nice things, so give yourself dedicated time for this.  

Step 5: Reflect

As you tick items off your to do list, make a note of how long it took you to complete the task. This can help with future time management / time blindness, and can also help with future motivation. 


If you need help getting organised, and figuring out a system that works for you and your life, get in touch and see how I can support you.

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