How To Make A To Do List Work For You

In my previous post from last week, I wrote about the most effective approach to making a simple to-do list. It is not hard to create a to-do list, but you have to format it so that you can actually cross things off. However, if you want to figure out how to make a to do list work for everything you do, then you should keep some points in mind. In this post, I will go over several tricks for you to get the best results possible.

Make A To-Do List Work For You To Stand Out

When you’ve written out your to-do list, do you follow and refer back to it? I sure hope so; if not, then you need to make some changes in how you go about your daily routine. To-do lists that work can help you get more done and feel less stressed out.

You can do that by following these seven awesome tricks for the best results. They include the following:

Trick # 1: Take time out to plan your list (at least 5-10 minutes)

Setting aside at least five minutes each day can help get you on the right track. It might be a little inconvenient to stop, but those few minutes of planning can make a difference in your day.

For me, I stick to the old fashion method: write my list out with a pen and paper. I know there are apps for making great notes, but I think writing them down can help you remember things better.

As a matter of fact, there have been studies (such as this one) showing that people using handwriting are more likely to remember them later on. This study indicated that students who wrote out their goals had to think about it more, so that improved their memory retention.

Instead of making a to-do list from your phone or tablet, I encourage you to go the pen and paper route. I’ve used it for some time, and it helps me remember what I wrote down earlier.

How to make a to do list work: This post goes over the best tricks to make a meaningful to do list for work.

Trick # 2: Break down your list into the top three priorities

As I discussed in my previous post, breaking down your list into the top three tasks can make your life easier. It all comes down to prioritizing what needs to get done.

So I’ll mention it again ask yourself the following question: For today, what are three things I need to get done? Will doing these tasks help you move the needles forward? Are they going to be well worth your time and energy to put in?

If you have a mentality of focusing on one-three tasks each day, you’ll be better prepared to do other tasks later on. Especially if you have more time on a single day, you might be able to free up some time for leisure or relaxation. Or just have more time to focus on career development, or growing a business.

Trick # 3 Determine how long your tasks will take

For all the tasks you write on your to-do list, it’s good to know how long it will take to complete them. For smaller tasks, it may take you a few minutes. But for more complex tasks, it can take a few hours to work on.

For example, if you’re working on a few articles for your website, it might take a few hours out of your day. If you count doing the real writing, followed by the editing, it will take quite some time.

How to make a to do list work: You need to know how long a certain task will take you to do. If it’ll take you a few hours, then that will take quite a bit of time.

How long does it take for me?

I know for myself, writing an article (such as this one) takes me under an hour to write out an initial draft. After that, it may take me another hour to edit and polish it off before I publish it.

Adding that up, it takes me 2-3 hours (or more) to research and write a great article on a specific topic. So I know that’s a good chunk of time I need to put in a single day.

When it comes to the longer tasks, understand how long it will take you to complete them. You should do it for small and large tasks so that way you’ll know exactly how long each task will take you.

Trick # 4 Setting deadlines for those tasks

Creating deadlines on some tasks can help challenge you to move things forward. When you need to get things done, deadlines can help you move on to more challenging tasks down the road. 

Also, doing the challenging tasks first (with set deadlines) will make your day go by smoother. Once you finish those challenging tasks, it’s easier to move on to simpler tasks. 

Doing the simpler tasks won’t take you long. So get in the habit of setting deadlines for your most important work, as it’ll be less stressful later.

Trick # 5 Label your tasks properly

What I mean by labeling your tasks is by separating what is and what’s not important. There are some things that need attention right away, while other things can hold off for some other time.

Here’s my breakdown of labeling tasks:

  1. Tasks that are “critical”: Writing an article, taking part in a sales call, working on a presentation for an upcoming webinar, etc.
  2. Tasks that are considered “Can wait until my priorities are done”: Checking email, going on social media (personal or professional), administrative work, etc.

I know for me, I’m good at focusing on getting my critical tasks out of the way first. So if it’s writing an article, that’s one of the first things I get done during the day.

Whatever work is considered “critical” for you, make sure to prioritize that work before doing anything else.

How to make a to do list work: Labeling your tasks (whether priority or not) can help you determine which tasks to work on first.

Trick # 6 Make a weekly mini-plan, followed by a daily mini-plan

When I write out my to-do lists, I tend to write weekly goals out at the beginning of each week. That may include my small wins for the week, and I ask myself what I want to accomplish in the upcoming week ahead.

As always, I write my daily tasks out every day. I may include one win from the day before, followed by listing my top priorities for that day.

But it’s nice to separate out my weekly and daily priorities out. It gives me an idea of what I have to do in a whole week, but also staying focused on my work one day at a time.

Trick # 7 Take action

This one is key to making a list that works. Once you write down the tasks you need to do, then take action. 

A lot of people fail to take action on accomplishing certain tasks by not taking action. It may be the feeling of procrastinating on things, or it’s more challenging than people think.

But regardless of, do NOT just say (or write) what you’re going to do, but TAKE action on it. Once you’ve taken action on it, check it off and have a mini celebration. 

Give yourself a small reward for doing a difficult task. If it’s grabbing a donut from Dunkin’ or going out to a nice dinner, treat yourself every now and then.

Final Words

Making a to-do list work is not that difficult. What was laid out earlier are simple steps you can take to get more done on your to do list.

I think one of the big takeaways here is taking action. No matter what, you have to take some type of action to get the results you want. If you don’t do that, nothing will happen. You won’t get the results you’re looking for.

Your Turn: Is your to-do list working to make you productive?

I would like to know some of your thoughts on to-do lists. Do you separate your goals on a daily or weekly basis? 

Do you determine how much time it will take for your tasks to be completed? Do you struggle with taking action when needed? What areas can you work on for improvement?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. I look forward to reading your thoughts, and I’ll gladly respond promptly.

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Eric is the owner and chief editor of 

He takes great pride in helping people manage their time and grow their businesses. 

Eric is a firm believer in financial and time freedom, as he believes in financial independence and taking ownership of your time. 

“Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” 

In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He enjoys going for long walks outdoors while doing in-home workout videos every week. 

You can also connect with Eric via LinkedIn.

Self Photo 2019: Here's a picture at a building in downtown Chicago.

2 thoughts on “How To Make A To Do List Work For You”

  1. Great article-  a to-do list is really benefiting. To-do lists are useful external memory aid that give you permission to forget.

    As long as you can remember to look at your to-do list, you will never lose anything that you have recorded on it. Without some sort of external memory aid, we are guaranteed to forget things due to the nature of our short-term memories.

    • Hi Emmanuel,

      Making a to-do list helps with retaining memory. There’s no doubt that it helps out a lot.

      I like the points you made earlier. Even without writing a list in general, it becomes harder and less certain about which direction to go to next. 

      You seem to have a clear understanding about the benefits of making to-do lists. I’m glad we have some similarities pertaining to this topic.

      Thank you very much for sharing your insights- they’re greatly appreciated.


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