How to Write an Effective To-Do List


How many times have you've gotten somewhere only to forget what
you needed in the first place? Note to self: Writing to-do lists saves
time, energy, stress and even gas. A good list lets you forget--once
you have a written reminder, your mind is free to concentrate on other
things. A to-do list even helps you meet your goals. Whether you're a
legal pad, personal digital assistant (PDA) or back-of-the-phone-bill
type, pick a system that works--and write it down!

  • Pull those scraps out of your pockets, purse and glove compartment, and gather them in one place. Where you choose to collect your thoughts depends on your personal style: If you like to cross things off, use a datebook, calendar or spiral-bound notebook that travels with you. If you prefer a more fluid system, write items on individual sticky notes and put them on a wall calendar. You can rearrange them as priorities change. Or stick the notes in your datebook and hit the road. See 11 Organize Your Contacts and 265 Create a Household Organizer.

  • Investigate the many electronic options for list makers. Your PDA is a great repository for all of your lists, including movies to rent, gifts to buy and business contacts who expect a call that day.

  • Categorize your to-dos, keeping like items together such as calls to make, things to buy and errands to run. Other categories might include gifts, projects, contacts, thoughts and goals. Order errand-related to-dos by shop and destination. See 4 Run Errands Efficiently.

  • Prioritize the items on your list to stay focused on what's critical (see 2 Set Priorities). Revisit your to-do list regularly to re-assess and reprioritize as situations change, and to check off completed items. Keep a "This Week" or "This Month" section for items that aren't immediate.

  • Buy a weekly calendar and use it for your to-do list. You can easily transfer leftover items to the next page, and you'll have a record of your entire year at the end.

  • Post a to-do list with projects that take 5 minutes or less to complete. Have family members choose and complete a task every evening--changing a burned out lightbulb, pumping up bike tires, putting the library books in the car or rearranging the towel closet. You'll free your weekends of small tasks and have time to tackle the big ones. See 36 Tidy Up in 15 Minutes.

Tips & Warnings

  • Remember those crazy dreams--and save them. See 16 Set Goals and review a lifetime to-do list every six months or so. Jump start your list with 491 Learn to Fly, 490 Run a Marathon and 501 Be Happy.
  • Give kids their own to-do lists. They're an important and valued part of the family team, and your household routines will go much smoother. Even preschoolers will enjoy checking items off a list with pictures next to the words.
  • See for more tips on handling life's details.
  • Put reading 9 Organize Your Thoughts on your list.
  • Create checklists on your computer so that you can update and print them easily.
  • Stash your to-do lists strategically. For example, keep a workout list in your gym bag and you'll never leave your swim goggles home again.

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