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To-do list dos and don’ts

If you want to accomplish a lot during your day, organize your to-do list with purpose and planning.

Woman with to do list

Want to turn your to-do list into a ta-da completed list? There’s a right way and a wrong way to organize your list to make sure it’s helpful. Learn some easy ways to make it work better for you!

1Plan ahead

Make your to-do list a day ahead. Trying to put it together in the rush of a hectic morning is almost a guarantee that you’ll forget something important. Many people keep a running list — adding appointments as they’re booked and crossing off tasks as they’re completed. Start with appointments and meetings and get them into your schedule first. Mandatory appointments — your business meetings or child pick-up times — should be listed first.

Use whatever format is most comfortable for you. Some individuals use electronic schedulers, while others prefer to write their to-dos in a daily planner. Make sure that your list is on a single page, and it can be carried with you wherever you go.


List your tasks in order of importance. You may not complete everything in one day, but there are things that have to be taken care of today. Try assigning tasks to hourly slots — exact timing isn’t always crucial, but allocating time to a task will help keep you on schedule. If you are more productive and alert during a certain part of the day, you can schedule the more demanding items then.

Break down large projects into specific tasks before listing them. Create ad campaign for client doesn’t belong on this list; instead, list the components that go into achieving this goal. Ideally, the smaller bites will take no more than an hour each. Breaking up a huge project into manageable chunks will help you follow through and get it done.

Don’t get overly detailed. Rather than individually listing all the people you need to reply to who have sent you emails or left phone messages, the to-do list should simply designate answer emails or return phone calls.

No matter how well you compose your to-do list, it is useless if you ignore it. You might have ambitious plans for your day, but be realistic and include items you’ll be able to manage in the available time. Tasks that can wait should certainly be listed but at a lower priority than the must-do-today items.

3Open or closed

As your day progresses, other items might be added. Unless something is urgent, put it on the list for the following day. A closed list is one you write the previous night and stick to — you don’t add on to it throughout the course of the day. Your focus is on completing the today list. An open list generally means beginning with a manageable number of items and being fluid — jotting down more tasks as emails, phone calls and appointments come in. Beware of how easy it is to overload an open list!

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