Have you ever created a to do list in the morning only to forget about it by lunchtime? Yeah, me too. A daily to do list is only helpful when you actually complete it, but that’s easier said than done.
As someone who loves to do lists, I’ve written a lot of them… and failed to complete many of them. What I’ve learned, though, is that completing your to do list starts with making your to do list. And there are some things you can do as you create your to do list each day that will help set you up for success.
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The follow through is important, so here are some tips that will help you make a daily to do list that you’ll actually complete.
Create Your Own System
There is no one way to make the perfect daily to do list. You need to find a to do list technique that works for you, because what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
For example, some people prefer handwritten to do lists while others prefer digital to do lists.
It’s also possible that what works for one area of your life won’t work for another area.
For my personal to do list, I keep a bullet journal. My personal to do list tends to be a little shorter and I like to have it with me and available when I don’t have internet access (AKA at my house).
But for work, I always have a long list of things to do and I only ever need it when I’m somewhere with internet, so I use OneNote to organize my work to do list.
Here are a few different ways to organize your to do list:
I know, I know… it’s not exactly high tech. But sticky notes are actually a great way to keep a daily to do list, especially if you don’t feel the need to keep track of what you’ve done.
Sticky notes are small, so there’s a limit to how much you can write, which keeps your list short and focused. You can also put your sticky note on your phone or any other item that you look at often in order to keep your list top of mind.
Simply write out your list and then toss the sticky note when you’re done.
Printables and Templates
The internet holds no shortage of to do list printables and templates. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find plenty of free templates to choose from. (Make sure you print out a big stack all at once, so you don’t have to keep going back to print out a new sheet.)
Using a printable is a little more visually appealing than a sticky note and, if you want to track what you’ve done, you can keep your list in a binder with other previous lists when you’re done with it.
Printables also allow you to keep your list on your fridge, on your work bulletin board, or in your notebook for glancing at often.
Bullet journaling is one of the techniques I use for keeping a to do list. It can take a little more time, especially if you add in monthly or weekly spreads, but I tend to keep my bullet journal simple so I’m not spending too much time to set it up.
Each day, I simply write the day’s date and then my to do list.
I love how customizable bullet journals are and I enjoy the process of making it my own. Being able to include lists and quotes and doodles every once in a while is part of the fun, so having the space to add in whatever I want is perfect!
I use a dotted Leuchtterm1917, which makes it easy to draw grids for my habit tracker and other miscellaneous spreads.
It’s also a great system for keeping track of all those little things you may not have accomplished the day before. Just put a little arrow next to the unfinished item and then include it again on your list for that day.
For work, I use OneNote to keep track of my to do list and done list. My to do list page includes a long list of items that I need to accomplish at some point, but at the beginning of each day, I move up the most important 2 or 3. (OneNote makes it easy to rearrange tasks, just click and drag.) Those are then the 2 or 3 items that I focus on that day.
Once I finish with a task, I move it over to a separate page where I keep a list of everything I accomplish. I call this my “done list”. It’s sorted by date and helps me remember what I’ve done each day. I’ve had to go back to this list many times to confirm when certain tasks were completed, so I find it extremely helpful.
In case you’re wondering Evernote and OneNote are very similar products, just created by different companies. I use OneNote because it came with the Microsoft Student software pack, but Evernote is interchangeable.
When my husband and I were planning our wedding last fall, we kept our wedding to do list in Trello. While Trello isn’t specifically for keeping to do lists, it is one of the best apps for lists in general.
It was perfect for our wedding because we could both access and make changes to the list and we could divide the list by what needed to happen when. We set it up so that there was a separate to do list for each month all on the same board, along with a done list where we put each task as we finished.
I seriously can’t imagine what planning our wedding would have been like without using Trello. It made everything so much easier!
While I’ve never used Trello for creating a daily to do list, I’m sure it would be a great platform for this. You could even plan out your week ahead of time with different lists for each day of the week all on the same board. Ooohhh… now I want to try that.
To Do List Apps
There are a large number of to do list apps available. You can find many of them with a quick Google search.
Honestly, I’ve downloaded many of them only to delete them again because I didn’t find them particularly helpful. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like them.
If you’ve been struggling to find a system that works for you, try out a few of these apps and see if you like them. It’s definitely worth a shot.
Daily To Do List Techniques
Now that I’ve covered some systems could try for your daily to do list, I want to share some tips that I’ve found helpful when creating a to do list each day.
Take time to write out your to do list every day. When you do something consistently, it becomes habit and habits make everything just a little bit easier.
Part of being consistent is finding a consistent time each day to write out your list. My suggestion would be to include it in your morning routine, or review your day’s list as part of your evening routine and then immediately write your to do list for the following day.
Keep Two Lists
Part of the difficulty with a to do list is that most of the time we have way too much to do. We have things we need to do and we have things we want to do; some are big projects, some are small tasks. When we write it all out, the list can be crazy long.
Instead of writing everything on your daily to do list, create a master to do list.
Master To Do List
A master to do list is essentially a really long list of everything you want/need to do but can’t necessarily get to today.
It can be broken down by when you want to accomplish each task. For example, things to accomplish this week, things to accomplish this month, etc. Or it can just be a list of things you’ll get to “someday”.
It’s important to keep this list separate from your daily to do list because putting every little thing on your daily to do list will make it feel overwhelming.
Daily To Do List
Your daily to do list is different from your master list because it contains only the things you are going to accomplish today. When you create your list each day, look back at your master to do list and add anything you want to tackle that day.
Keep it Short
The secret to accomplishing everything on your to do list is to keep it short. I know that might sound like cheating… I mean, of course, putting less things on your list means it’s easier to accomplish. But the reality is that a long list quickly becomes overwhelming and distracting.
If you only have 1 or 2 tasks on your list each day, it’s much easier to focus on those tasks and get them done. If you have 5 things on your list, chances are you’ll have a difficult time prioritizing and nothing will get finished.
To narrow down your list, first pick the 5 most important tasks. Then, from that list, pick the 3 most important tasks. Then pick either the 1 or 2 most important from that list.
One of my biggest takeaways from The 4-Hour Workweek is the question, “If this is the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?” As you narrow down your list, ask yourself this question to make sure you’re on the right track.
Try to make each task on your list as specific as possible.
Don’t just put a big project on the list as one task. You’ll be overwhelmed just thinking about it and you won’t even start.
Instead, break down your big projects and write them on your to do list as smaller, actionable steps. This makes starting any project 10 times easier and your list won’t feel so overwhelming.
Tackle Your List First
Make the items on your to do list a priority in your day and try to do them first. If you put off the tasks on your list, there’s a good possibility you won’t ever get to them.
If it’s a to do list for work, start on it as soon as you get to the office. Don’t open your email or any other distractions until your list is complete.
For your personal to do list, consider working on it immediately after your morning routine or as soon as you get home from work.
Making your to do list a priority is essential to getting everything on it done.
Look at It Often
Whatever system you choose for your to do list, make sure it’s easily accessible and something you’ll look at often. The easiest way to forget about your to do list is to type it and then shut down your computer.
Make sure you keep your list front and center throughout the day (or at least until it’s completed).
Stick it on your fridge or keep your bullet journal nearby and open or keep your to do list app open on your phone.
It may also be helpful to set specific times throughout the day to check your list and make sure you’re on track.
Keep a Done List
I’ve mentioned this a couple times already, but I’ll explain it a little more here. For each area of my life, I keep a done list. Basically, it’s a list of everything I’ve accomplished. When I finish a task on my to do list, I move it to my done list.
I love being able to go back to my done lists and see everything that I’ve accomplished. If you struggle with motivating yourself or feeling like you work all day and accomplish nothing, you might find a done list to be really helpful. (Work done lists are also really helpful for updating your resume.)
If you want to read more about how I keep a done list, check out the post I wrote about it here: Why I Keep a Done List (And How It Works)
One Last Note
I hope you’ve found some helpful gems in this post. To do lists can be the difference between getting nothing done and accomplishing your biggest goals, so it’s important to know how to make a daily to do list you’ll actually complete.