To Do List

Anyone of us has used (or uses) a to do list. But how can you make the most if this simple system? What is the best number of items on your to do list and how many to-do lists should one have?
In this blogpost I will tell you all about to do lists, how to create them and how to best work with them.

Why should I have a to do list

Some people like to work with to do lists, some people don’t. I you would ask me I would say that everyone, at some point in their life, will need one or multiple to do list(s). Your mind is great for problem solving and creativity, but it is truly a horrible system for reminding. Who hasn’t been in bed at night and suddenly remembered something important?

Often the mind reminds us of things at a time that is not very convenient. Without to do lists you force yourself to rely on a ‘system’, in this case the brain or the mind, which is never truly trustworthy. You will forget things that are important, or be reminded of them when it is not very convenient.

What I find most appealing on working with to do lists is that they create space. Space and clarity for your mind. Strangely enough as long as the mind thinks you don’t have something ‘captured’ it will give itself the task to remind you. But as soon as you start using an external tool to capture and hold your to do’s the mind will let go of its task of reminding you. This, if you ask me, is by far the greatest advantage of using lists and external capture tools. Your mind will have new, empty space. Space to use for creative though processes. This reduces stress and gets you better results because you can be more focussed.

So to summarize, a to-do list can help you:

  • Capture everything that has your attention, so you mind doesn’t have to;
  • Remind you of (your most important) tasks and things to do;
  • Clear your head.

Let’s dive further into the to do list. What is needed to create a to do list, how do you manage all your lists and how many items should be on a daily to do list?

To Do List

How to create a to do list

Let me start by saying there are many, many different ways to create a to do list. Some people use a to do list template, some people have not-to-do lists and some people have to do lists the size of small books! For me, a good to do list can either be on paper or digital, although I prefer my daily to do list on a ‘sticky note’. Why? Well the advantages of a sticky note are twofold:

  1. The sticky note can easily be taken along, you can put in onto your laptop and take it with you into meeting for example and
  2. The dimensions of the sticky note force you to keep a small list. More on that later.
    But this is just my preference. A to do list can be created online, in Word, in Evernote, or you can keep an offline to do list in your Moleskin, on a sheet of paper and so on.

Next up, how to create a to do list.

This is the hardest part. Knowing how to create a to do list might seem easy, trivial even. But if you have never had a good to do list, or have never been working with to do lists before , this might seem hard at first.

The contents of the to do list

A good to do list consists of your most important tasks. That is it. Sound easy right? But most people, me included, have the tendency to over-commit. We say “yes” too often. And thus our to-do list keeps on growing and growing. The key to productivity relies heavy on learning how to say no. No to making commitments we know we can’t keep and saying no to ourselves (Can I play this game now? Shall I browse my social media for another hour? The answer: No).

A good to do list should be simple. At best it should contain 1 to 3 items, your most important tasks of the day. For me, 3 items is the maximum. If I commit to more than 3 large, important tasks per day I know that nothing will get done. So I choose to create a to do list with a maximum of 3 items. Are you comfortable with more items, and sure you can finish them all? Then please add more items. If you are unsure if you can handle more, than stick to three to do’s. That is all.

What about the smaller tasks and small errands? Well, if they are so important that they should be planned you might want to add them on your to do list as well. But not much is urgent and important, in other words, most things that we think are important don’t really are. The same goes for urgency. For more information about the most important task check out the post regarding the Pareto Principle.


Types of to do lists

There are many different types of to do lists that you can use. I myself like to use the GTD-esque type of to do lists, meaning I like to work with context specific to do lists. I keep one for in the office (@office), for home (@home), a delegated/waiting for list (@waiting) and I have a groceries/buy to do list (@buy). Dependent upon your usage of to do lists you might want to do the same. For me personally, I helps a lot to get as much stuff out of my head and onto an external ‘reminder tool’. In this way I can be focussed and live in the present, giving my full, undivided attention to whatever it is I am doing. Whenever I then go to the shop I don’t have to worry about forgetting to buy something, because all the things I need are one a list I can easily access.

This might seem strange to some people. Why should you keep so much lists? Doesn’t that overcomplicate things? Well, everything that is on a list somewhere does not have to be remembered by the brain. And that is a huge relieve!

Besides context specific lists I have different to do lists. I use a Master To-Do list and a daily to do list (created at the end of each day, covering the most important tasks for the next day). The Master To-Do list (which I hold in Evernote) is a huge list of all tasks, actions and ideas that came up in my mind. I capture them in Evernote to clear my head. The Master To-Do list is there to help you get an overview of everything that needs to be done. Therefore the Master To-Do list can be divided into lists (like the @home, @office etc. I mentioned before). This will help you to prioritize your to do’s and maintain a global overview of everything that should have your attention.

The head is for having ideas, not for holding them. That is what a to do list is for.

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