The 5 Top Rules of Writing a Kick Ass To-do List

I have a Type A personality and I’m annoyingly organised so for me, writing to-do lists is as easy as colour coordinating my underwear or alphabetising my spice rack. For most people, writing to-do lists can be as overwhelming as actually completing the list itself. For some people even finding a pen and something to write on can present a major challenge.

For those of you to whom organisation does not come naturally, here are a few tips to help you write a kick-ass to-do list that will boost your productivity and make you heaps more sexy.*

how to write a to-do list

1. Have a maximum of 3 items 

Let’s face it, we’re all a bit lofty first thing in the morning and our sense of time is totally warped. When it’s 9am and you’re sitting at your desk with a never-ending landscape of time ahead of you, it’s easy to fill your to-do list with a hundred tasks that you’ll no doubt finish by lunchtime and then you can spend the afternoon ‘working on a side project’ or pumicing your callouses.

Truth? That’s not going to happen.

The trick is to be very discerning about your to do list and limit yourself to 3 items per day. 3 items doesn’t seem like much but once you’ve completed a report, replied to all your emails and made a start on a project plan, that can be almost a full days work right there. If you finish all your tasks before the day is over, just add 1 more thing to the list. Don’t set yourself up for failure by writing yourself a list of 20 impossible tasks everyday that you won’t complete and then send yourself into a spiral of self loathing, drowning yourself in cheap whisky and binge watching The New Girl. Make your goals achievable.

2. Be direct 

Another common mistake that people make with their to do lists is that they are far too vague. So for example I’ll write ‘Smaggle content’ on my to do list and when I go to complete that item, I’m stumped. A much more effective way to write it is ‘Smaggle Wednesday – How to write a kick ass to do list’. Take as much of the guess-work out of the list as you can. Don’t set yourself up for a road block because Past You was too vague for Future You.

3. Write it the night before 

In my experience, I’m much more conservative if I write my list the night before. If I write it in the morning I’m all high on breakfast endorphins and my brain thinks it’s totally plausible to write and submit 7 freelance articles before midday and learn how to edit videos in a brand new and highly complicated program. Tip: It’s not plausible nor is it possible so calm the frick down and be reasonable. Take a few moments well before bed time to prioritise what needs to be done and write it down ready for the next day. This will combat that pesky early morning optimism that has you listing unachievable dumb shit like ‘Write and self publish my Tyrion Lannister fan fiction novel’ on your list.

4. Time limit some tasks

People will naturally make a task fit however much time they have to do the task. Think about deadlines. How often do you complete a task in the last 5 minutes before it’s due? Set a timer. Give yourself 20 minutes to work on the task and then take a stretch/toilet/cup of tea break. Repeat until the task is completed. It’s a sure-fire way to get a task ticked off rather than spending all day procrastinating by watching people eat things on YouTube instead of knuckling down and getting shit done.

5. Show it to a friend 

If you hold yourself accountable for the items that you’ve put on your list, you’re far more likely to achieve them. Try telling a work mate that you want to finish your project pitch or clear your inbox before lunch time and if you do, you’re allowed to go to a fancy cafe for lunch. The caveat is that you have to show your friend your completed work before you’re allowed to go. This works best if you choose a friend who gets off on power. Pick someone who’s strong enough to steal your car keys and cares enough about winning.

Do you write to-do lists? What are your to-do list rules?

* Sexiness levels may vary depending on who’s looking at you.

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  1. You know how much I love a To Do list and these tips are all kinds of awesome! I love limiting yourself to 3 tasks and setting time limits, too. Brilliant advice.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      I’m all over the time limits. I know I keep banging on about them but they WORK god damn it!

  2. KezUnprepared 6 years ago

    Great tips! I write to do lists when I’m feeling the most overwhelmed. Gets my anxiety out on paper and makes me feel in control again! It’s less scary when it’s all broken down into easy to manage steps and ticking off even one thing can make you feel good!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      I write one every single day! I just can’t fathom waking up in the morning and not having a list of stuff to do. The thought drives me batty!

  3. Type A personality here too 🙂 Love my to do lists, I write them on sticky notes the night before and leave them on the kitchen bench for the morning. I also tend to add extra stuff to them that I have done during the day, just so I can cross the tasks off! As well as my daily list, I also have a to do list for the week, so I can see the whole week ahead and know what I have to accomplish around kids – if they sleep more, I can jump ahead a day if needs be and get more done etc. #listnerd

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      I love doing that! Adding stuff to the list that I’ve already done. Makes me feel so my more accomplished. I also write my lists the night before. I can’t sleep otherwise!

  4. I try and get the top 4 off my list each day – but I have 10 things on it to remind me of the others just in case I forget! (says the woman still up writing a presser that’s due tomorrow)

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      I have the Moleskine Timepage app and it sends reminders of important stuff to my watch. It’s the best! Stops me from forgetting meetings and things!

  5. Jules L 6 years ago

    My to do list writing skills have disappeared. I’ve become completely frustrated with myself for writing a huge list and not axhieving much on it. Tomorrow I will start with a list of 3 things and go from there. First one, clean up my messy desk so I can actually work there.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      Oh yes that’s an excellent first item to have on your to-do list!

  6. I love a good to do list! It definitely keeps my life in check especially when there are so, so many things to do.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      Cannot live without mine. Even if I’m away or there’s only arbitrary stuff on it, I still need a list!

  7. Christine 6 years ago

    Sad fact of life – when you get to my age you MUST have a to do list or else you forget what you actually have to do and just play with puppies all day or watch cute puppy videos on YouTube. xx

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      That actually sounds amazing. HEAPS better than to-do lists.


  1. […] The Top 5 Rules For Writing A Killer To Do List  […]

  2. […] One of the biggest productivity killers is overwhelm. Enormous To Do list are terrifying and they can scare people into inaction. Each morning, choose just three things to put on your To Do list and you must get only those three things done today. That’s it. That’s all you need to do. If you get through the things on your list, you can add some more things. Here are some tips for To do list writing if you need some inspo.  […]

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