To do lists are these wonderful, magical things that can transform your day from an overwhelming mess to a structured and organised chaos.
They can help clear your mind and help you achieve even more in your day with less effort… But, how often do you actually complete your to-do list?
I have to admit, for a long time I was the kind of person who would throw way too much on my to do list and then go hell-bent on doing as much as I possibly could.
The problem was, no matter how much work I did, I never completed my to do list. It was never done. Because it was impossibly long. It had a good weeks worth of tasks on it for one day.
I figured, the more I put on there the harder I would work to have it done. Right?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it made me work hard. But it was the negative effects it had on my mentality that was the problem.
As a classic overachiever, it was second nature for me to put far more tasks on my plate (aka my to do list) than I could ever achieve in a day. We’ve all done it before.
Add to that the little disruptions that pop up during the day, not prioritizing what needs to get done first, and simple distractions (hello TikTok, I’m looking at you…), and before we know it, the end of the day is here and we feel like we haven’t achieved much at all.
Then the problem was, I started to approach my to do list as an ‘it’s never all going to get done’ kind of deal. And that sucks.
It meant I wasn’t feeling that amazing sense of achievement that comes with actually completing your to do list for the day.
It meant I felt like I was always overwhelmed and always chasing my tail.
And it meant I was always focusing on the ‘more’ that I had to do, not the achievement of the things I had already done.
So I set out to change it and actually make a point of finishing my to do list every day.
Here’s how I make it happen.
Grab a copy of our free Mini Life Planner that contains my Daily Planner sheet which covers all of these areas and more:
Write Two Lists
This seriously is one of the biggest changes I made that just cleared my head so much.
The first list is like a brain dump of all the things you can think of that need to be done. This is something I do in a notebook so it’s not part of my daily planner, that way I’m not tempted to look at is as my daily to do list.
This brain dump is pretty much what your to do list would have looked like before if you were like me and trying to do everything all at once.
Write everything down you can think of that needs to be done, personal, business, work… anything.
Whatever is on your mind, even if it doesn’t need to be done today (bonus points if you add a timeframe it needs to be completed by).
Then, create an actual to do list for the day. Using the items off your first list, compile a list of tasks that actually need to be done that day.
I usually break mine into 3 sections, home, business and personal.
Home tasks might include things like two loads of laundry and unstacking the dishwasher, business could include responding to emails and writing x number of articles and personal could include a coffee date with a friend or my self care activity for the day.
You’ll see on my daily planning page where you can fill in the difference sections to help with this – things like ‘self care’, ‘exercise’ and ‘meals’ all have their own sections to help you see what needs to be done without being overwhelmed.
The point is to make this list achievable and to focus on what needs to be done, rather than everything you think you should be doing.
Don’t fill the list if it doesn’t need to be filled.
Don’t keep adding tasks for the sake of adding tasks.
Include Smaller Tasks
We do a whole lot in the day that we don’t give ourselves credit for.
Starting to include smaller tasks or micro tasks into your to do list will not only give you a visual representation of all that you’ve achieved, but will also bring extra satisfaction when you get to cross even more tasks off your to do list each day.
Things like grocery shopping, unstacking the dishwasher and responding to emails are all tasks we do on a fairly regular basis but tend to leave off the to do list.
I’ll even add a task to the to do list, even if I’ve already done it, just so I can cross it off. Cheating? Maybe. But it feels good.
Mark Your Priorities
Once you have your to do list all set out with your tasks you need to complete and your smaller tasks added in, mark out your top 3 priorities.
The top 3 things that absolutely must be done no matter what. The 3 things that if everything else on that list didn’t happen, it would be okay because those 3 things were done.
There is a section for this on the daily planner that can help you focus on these 3 things.
Having these actually marked out as priorities means you’re more likely to focus on them during your day and have a visual reminder that these tasks are important and need to be done.
You can find printable planning pages like the one below in our store here.
Do One Task The Night Before
Want to always feel like you’re on top of your to do list? Complete one tasks the night before and you’re already on your way to finishing your list.
I write out my to do list at night (usually), or at the very least I write out my big brain dump list of to do’s.
From that, I always make sure I’ve done one thing or set myself up to complete one thing immediately of a morning.
It could be as simple as setting out your clothes the night before so you know what you’re going to wear for the day (get dressed… tick – love those micro tasks).
Whatever it is, crossing one item off your to do list the night before ensures you’re going to kick off the day in the right way by not feeling overwhelmed and already starting your day with a sense of achievement.
Such simple little changes to how you approach your to do list can make such a massive difference in your ability to actually complete your to do list each day.
This post was first published on the 11th September 2017 and updated on the 28th September 2020.
Wednesday 17th of July 2019
I'm going to try this tonight! Thanks for the idea - I've never tried doing a brain dump first then organizing it! :)
Tuesday 16th of July 2019
This is a great post! I love the brain dump idea!
Monday 22nd of April 2019
I actually thought I could do it without making a list. But now my to-do list helps me get things done without stressing myself. I start my list with smaller tasks if they’re my top priority then get to the hard ones, helps me complete them effectively.