“I needed a vacation…My car needed an oil change. I’d failed to file my income tax. One of the stems had broken off of my reading glasses. There were ants in my apartment. I needed to get my teeth cleaned. My shoes were run down at the heels. I had insomnia. My auto insurance had expired. I cut myself every time I shaved. I hadn’t laughed in 6 years. I tended to worry when there was nothing to worry about. And when there was something to worry about, I got drunk.”

~Charles Bukowski

Sound familiar? This is an unpleasant reality in today’s endlessly busy world. A to-do list that never gets any shorter, a day filled with unpleasant tasks that never gets any longer, and a life full of depression, overload, burnout and unhappiness.

Are we really getting out of bed in the morning for that?

The title of this piece is creating a to-do list that you’re actually going to do. We’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s talk about why it matters, and that can be summed up on in simple sentence.

A successful to-do list is one you’re actually going to see the end of.

Today’s society thrives on being busy, and a vital part of that seems to be a magically regenerating to-do list that never runs out.


That quote hangs over my desk to remind me where my priorities-where ALL of our priorities-need to be: Creating a life we actually WANT to live. One we’re going to have time to enjoy.

That’s not going to happen if every morning starts with an endless list of things to do.

With That In Mind, Let’s Talk About Creating To-Do Lists That Work

Okay, I’ll hop down off my soapbox now so we can talk about the nitty gritty of creating a to-do list that works. One that’s going to allow you to do the things you need to do, with plenty of time left over to do the things you love. Are you ready?

Step One: Choose a to-do list platform that you’re going to keep with you. Always.

The most successful to-do lists are the ones we actually take the time to look at. Your list isn’t going to do you any good if it never moves off the refrigerator at home! It doesn’t matter if you keep your list in your phone, in your planner or on a piece of paper, just as long as you keep it somewhere you get to it when you need to.

Why is this important? How often have you found yourself having to make an extra trip to the store to pick up something you forgot? Or been in town and completely forgot what you were there to do? A key element to actually getting through your to-do list is being able to cluster tasks as often as possible. If you are working in Projects, Trello & Basecamp have great to do list opportunities.

You’re human. Your memory isn’t going to be able to handle keeping track of everything you need to do in a day. You’re going to need that list.

Step Two: Decide what needs to go on your list.

This is a tricky one for many people, and it’s going to take some tweaking before you figure it out. The key to deciding what needs to go on your list is taking a good, hard look at what you ACTUALLY need to do.

For myself, I do this by keeping two lists. One for ALL the things I need to do, which includes work projects, car repair, home maintenance, birthday shopping…you get the picture. The other is what I need to do TODAY. That list is much, MUCH shorter! Each morning, I pull off all the work and family tasks that have to be finished TODAY, then fill in the blanks around it with everything else. Which leads me to…

Step Three: Be realistic about how much time you have in a day.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, but there’s only so long you can keep moving before your tank runs dry. When you’re making your to-do list, whether you decide to keep one list or many, be realistic about how much time you’re going to have. Overloading your to-do list is going to overload your brain, your body and your schedule. The next thing you know, it’s been six years and you haven’t cracked a smile.

Don’t let this be you. Give yourself a break, and break your list down into chunks you can actually handle.

Step Four: Prioritize your to-do list.

Life has a funny way of getting a good laugh out of looking at your schedule. Things are going to happen. The kids will get sick, the car will break down, a meeting will run long or a project will suddenly flip on its head.

Inevitably, all of these things will lead to items still sitting on your to-do list at the end of the day. Prioritize your list, with the things that have to be done FIRST sitting at the top of it. If you’ve done that successfully, what you have left at the end of the day can easily be bumped over to tomorrow.

Step Five: DELEGATE!

You are not Superman. You do not control time. You cannot successfully do everything. Once you’ve made up your to-do list, take a look and see what you can pass off. Can someone else on your team handle that portion of the project? Can your partner go to that meeting? Can your spouse or children tackle those chores?

Successful delegation is the key to keeping your to-do list in check.

Stay tuned for more tips on mastering your to-do list before it masters you!

Here are some great applications for To-Do’s you can download on your phone.

Enjoy completing your to-do lists!