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Top tips for managing your to-do list

This blog is one in a series designed to help you get better at time management and be more productive. It's based on my own experience and what's worked for many of my coaching clients.

Common problems with how we manage our to-do lists that cause issues with time management and productivity include

  • The list feels too big and overwhelming

  • We hardly ever get to the end of them or do the things we set out to do in the day and then we beat ourselves up over that, get demoralised (or overwhelmed) and feel stressed...which makes the problem even worse.

  • We can end up with lots of lists, which sparks a valid fear of forgetting or missing something

  • We think of something we need to do but then forget it or worry about forgetting it, which takes up mental energy and can easily lead to us waking up in a panic in the middle of the night and/or feeling generally anxious

  • Worrying about forgetting something or not doing something that we’re not doing right now means we don’t focus on what we HAVE chosen to do right now!

Exhausting right?

Ideas for addressing parts of these problems are included in my blog on 'Managing distractions and getting the big stuff done'.

This blog covers my tips for the To-Do List itself and managing it:

  • Have ONE master list that you can update anywhere, anytime

  • Capture information and the level of energy needed

  • Block out time in your diary every day to do some tasks

  • Decide which tasks to do today

Have ONE master list that you can update anywhere, any time

This means you can get the idea out of your head and onto your list when you first think about it…which means

  • You don't have to waste mental energy worrying about forgetting it!

  • You're likely to sleep better and be less distracted as your mind won't feel the need to wake you up / keep reminding you of something it's worried you'll forget.

Online to-do lists that are available on a browser and an app on your phone are ideal (e.g.meistertask, todoist, asana). And if they have the functionality to create a task from an email, then even better as it takes care of some of the next tip...

Capture information and the level of energy needed

When you add any task to your to-do list -

Include the information you have already

….your initial thoughts, the information provided from different sources, priority, expectations etc so you don’t have to do that thinking again when it’s time to focus on actually taking action on this task.

Capture the level of energy you need to complete the task – High, medium, or low

This will be based on your gut feel but is likely to depend on a mix of

  • Priority/Importance

  • Size/Time needed to complete the task

  • Complexity, and

  • The motivation you need to do the task – the tasks you think are dull or boring will need more energy!

Block out time in your diary every day to do some tasks

…otherwise, something else will hijack your time and you won’t get any of your priorities done.

Plan different time slots based on the energy you’re likely to have during each day – High, Medium, Low.

Check out these blogs for more ideas in this area

Treat this time as you would an important meeting or an emergency dental appointment.

Defend the time! You’re busy then and that's non-negotiable.

Decide which tasks to do today

  • Review your priorities and pick the tasks you’ll work on today in each of your energy ‘buckets’ - High, Medium and Low. Put them on a piece of paper if you like to physically tick things off a list.

  • Use the due dates you’ve assigned to your tasks as a guide but accept that your tasks and priorities may change on a daily basis

  • Avoid our natural human tendency for optimism at this point! Don't try and do too many tasks in a day. What are your top 2 priorities? Aim to get those done and treat anything more as a bonus!

Life is not a game of 'perfect', and neither is time management. So when it comes to managing your to-do list,

Expect the unexpected. Stay flexible. Prioritise ruthlessly. Plan daily.

If you'd like to


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