Knowing how to make a to do list is an essential skill in the modern workplace.
If you construct your to do list right, you can approach task management methodically and have greater control over how you work.
But many to do list’s read more like a wish-list of tasks they want to get done if they can find the time.
If you feel shamed instead of motivated when you look at your to do list, rest assured.
It only takes a tweak here and a nudge there to knock a to do list back into shape.
And once you get the hang of making to do lists, you can start reaping the rewards from the excellent planning tool a carefully-crafted to do list truly is.
This article provides 5 actionable tips for writing better to do lists, and shows you how you can use monday.com to get your team roaring along using a shared to do list.
Benefits of a to do list done right
We all have a million and one things to do, and if you take a moment to think about all of your outstanding projects and tasks … let’s just say it can feel a little bit scary.
Writing a to do list achieves a number of things ―
- It empties all the clutter in your mind so you can focus on the task at hand.
- Decluttering your mind also reduces stress, as you can confidently know that you won’t forget anything you need to do.
- Once you have a list of tasks, you can choose which order you need to do them in, making you a proactive organized worker.
- Your brain rewards you as you tick off a job with a little boost of the feel-good hormone dopamine. Who doesn’t want to feel good about their work?
So let’s take a look at those 5 essential tips you can use to write better to do lists.
#1. Fill your to do list with small action items not large tasks.
When you add tasks to your to do list, make them smaller action items rather than a single large job.
A to do list filled with large tasks like “rebrand the business” is certain to overwhelm you.
A study back in 2015 — run jointly by Microsoft and Stanford University — found that projects in which large tasks got split into lots of smaller ones had higher quality outcomes than projects in which large tasks stayed as large tasks for which one person was responsible.
Breaking down a project into smaller action items allows you to tick off each smaller task as you go along and build up some useful dopamine-fuelled momentum.
The alternative is a single huge task on your to do list which keeps getting delayed.
You can split down a large project into a visually useful to do list of action items in monday.com.
Here’s how the project of rebranding a business might look (in monday.com) when broken down into smaller tasks:
#2. Organize and prioritize your task list.
Once you’ve drawn up a to do list, you then want to prioritize and organize list items in line with your goals and objectives.
Let’s break that down…
Are there any jobs on your to do list that only take a moment to complete?
If so, do those immediately.If it’s quicker to do a task than spend the same amount of time placing it somewhere in your schedule, get it done before you start organizing.
Also consider if there are tasks on your to do list that you can delegate to a coworker who is better suited to the job.
Making smart choices about all the resources at your disposal can help improve both you and your team’s output.
It’s also not uncommon to have a few tasks on your to do lists that are no longer relevant. For whatever reason, circumstances have changed and the task is redundant.
Take pleasure in striking these off your list, don’t let them hang around like the guest that won’t leave when the party’s over.
We recommend the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to determine which tasks require your attention first:
The Eisenhower Matrix can help prioritize all of your tasks, helping you to narrow down which ones to do first.
Here’s how to set that up in monday.com:
Assign each of your tasks to a sector in the quadrant depending on how urgent and important they are.
If you have lots of urgent and important tasks, take a deep breath, then rank these tasks in order using a simple numbering system.
Make the most pressing action item priority number 1.
#3. Use more than one to do list.
Use several to do lists instead of one long list containing all your outstanding tasks.
Having many context-specific to do lists can reduce the stress caused by an intimidating single list containing all your tasks.
Splitting work and personal to-do’s is an obvious approach, but splitting apart a work to do list is a little more tricky.
Some choose to organize to do lists by days of the week, or even location (for instance, if they travel for work).
If your team is working on multiple projects, separate the tasks into logical groups and put them on their own list.
Splitting your to do lists will give your greater control and understanding of how a project is progressing.
If you organize your project’s to do lists using monday.com, for instance, you can track project progression using any number of our multiple view options.
Here’s what it looks like using the timeline view, but you can also track progress with a Gantt chart, pie chart, and more:
#4. Have a method of capturing new tasks.
Many people point and laugh at the goldfish with its 3-second memory (Note: goldfish get a bad rap. It’s substantially longer than that).
But we humans don’t fare much better, at least on short-term memory.
The men and women in white coats say that, on average, human short-term memory is limited to about 30 seconds without internal repetition.
They also conclude that we can hold 7 +/-2 items of information in our short-term memory.
So when a new ‘to do” item suddenly emerges in your mind, you need to have a system in place to capture and process that task.
This tip is one that’s central to David Allen’s popular productivity system, he calls, Getting Things Done.
David Allen says “There is no reason to ever have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.“
The point he’s making is that the brain should be for thinking about the task at hand, not remembering all of the things you need to do.
Your system for remembering new to do items could be analog or digital.
You could write your new tasks on a sticky note and place it in a particular tray on your desk, or you could send yourself an email — whatever works for you.
(Hint: Using monday.com you can turn emails into tasks automatically using our Gmail integration. Just saying!)
#5. Focus on a manageable number of tasks each day.
There’s an old African proverb that asks “how do you eat an Elephant?” The answer is “‘one bite at a time.”
The deeper meaning is that when faced with a task that seems insurmountable, cut it into smaller, more manageable pieces.
How can you do that?
Well, one method you can use to limit your daily tasks and improve your productivity is the Ivy Lee method.
The Ivy Lee method recommends that at the end of the day you write 1-6 tasks you want to accomplish the next day.
When you start work the following day, you don’t need to spend any time planning. You simply tackle each task in order and don’t move onto the next until you’ve completed the one you are working on.
At the day’s end place any unfinished tasks on the next day’s list and add new action items from your master list.
You could even use monday.com’s daily task tracker template to organize your Ivy Lee to do list into more manageable bites.
Try using monday.com to manage your team’s to do lists.Technology beats paper when it comes to managing a to do list for your team.
Using an app also allows you to automate recurring tasks, assign tasks to co-workers, and guarantees that you don’t let important tasks slide.
You can take your long list of disorganized large tasks and split them into separate projects and assume control of your workload again.
If you’re already using an app for your team’s task management, why not see what monday.com can do for your team?
A good start is experimenting with the weekly to do template for better team organization.