The Right Way To Create A To-Do List

Whether it is getting ready for exams, household errands or creating a checklist for all the Holiday preparations you need to set up, To-Do Lists are essential. The only problem is, for a lot of people most things on this list don’t end up getting done and you forever fall down what I call the “to-do-abyss.” It may seem as easy as jotting a few items down on a boxed paper, but there is a bit more to it. Today were discussing whyTo-Do Lists fail and how to create a better list to keep you motivated to actually get things done.

why they fail?

As my math teacher used to say, let’s start with the root of the problem. Why do To-Do Lists fail? I’ll give you three reasons. They may seem like simple things but they make a huge difference.

The first is the simplest answer: the list is too long. When you are faced with a laundry list of things to get done in the day, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. There are so many things to focus your attention on; things that often don’t correlate.

This leads us into the second reason. To-Do Lists, while good intentioned, often become a constant reminder of tasks undone. They remind you that no matter how many things you have done so far, there is always others things you haven’t even started.

For example, when you fill out your school To-Do Lists with the assignments you need to do it will look something like this. Just finished a 10 page essay? Guess what, you still have four readings to do, and four more essays to write. You did one thing. But there are so many other things undone.

Which brings us to our last point. We give ourselves too much time. One thing I have always been fascinated with in my studies as a Psychology student is our perception of time. Time has a way of flying by when we are enjoying ourselves, but a minute can seem like an eternity when we are doing something we don’t necessarily want to do. This faulty-time-perception-syndrome unfortunately translates to other aspects of our life. And where To-Do Lists are concerned, the more time you give yourself to complete a task, the less likely you are to complete it.

Instead, you’ll end up overestimating the time you have to complete the rest of the assignments that are due, and end up rushing at the last minute to make sure everything is done in time.

let’s fix that.

How to Make An Effective To-Do List

Now that we know why the typical To-Do Lists often don’t work, let’s create a better one to actually get things done.

The first key is to be specific, but not too specific. This one often confuses people. How specific do you need to be? You do not want to fall down the rabbit hole of micro-managing your tasks as you’ll be spending too much time on your lists then the actual tasks. The key here is to break down a project into a few key areas that will make it seem easier to complete.

For example, if you need to write a research paper, your To-Do List should look something like this:

to do list - essay

Next, you’ll want to give yourself clear and specific deadlines. In school, this is easily done for you as due dates for projects, essays an exams but in life, it is hard to remember to do this. If you don’t give yourself a specific time or date to get something done by, you’ll end up not doing it because it is not important in your mind.

For example, if you need to get a lot of household things done, set up your day like this:

get house hold tasks done

This is just an example of setting specific times associated with your tasks for the day. Leave a bit of room to ensure you account for faulty-time-perception-syndrome (FTPS) and are not underestimating how much time it takes you do do something. Some tasks, like Laundry don’t have to be such daunting tasks as you can occupy yourself with many things which your washer and drier work on auto pilot. Watch a show, exercise, or cook. It all depends on you.

This leads us into our next point, prioritize your tasks. Since I was little, my mother used to set out overarching goals for the month. For example, March was all about reorganizing your finances and April was all about Spring Cleaning, so on and so forth. It makes it easy to finish a tasks if they are all somewhat related. You can do this by setting aside specific days in the week when you get certain things done. If you’re in school for example, you can set aside specific days to work on specific classes to make sure that during the week, every subject is getting done. It should look something like this:

Monday: Language Classes

Tuesday: Statistics

Wednesday: Psychology

Thursday: Communicaitons

Friday: Audio Visual Projects

Saturday: Hair Wash Day and Relax

Sunday: Cleaning

Setting up your week like this makes sure that you have a main goal for the day. Set three subgoals for each main goal so no matter what else is on the list, you accomplished your overarching goal for the day.

Lastly, be mindful of what you can actually do in a day. A day only has 24 hours in it. We spend 6-8 hours of it sleeping, 2 hours commuting, 8 hours working or in class which only leaves you about 6 hours of wiggle room. There is only so much you can do in a day so try not to overwhelm yourself with too many random tasks that leave you feeling defeated and unaccomplished.

Hear from the experts! 8 Expert Backed Secrets to Making the Perfect To Do List!

Set your goals, and be specific. Tackle at least 3 big goals a day, and at the end of the week, you would have accomplished 21 goals. Now that is a To-Do List.

I recommend checking out this well written post from LifeHacker about Mastering the Art of the To-Do List. The author, Janet Choi provides great advice backed up by psychology studies.