How to write the perfect to do list

4th Dec 2019

How to write the perfect to do list

Some time ago I watched The Peak Work Performance Summit in which the world's top productivity experts reveal their secrets to getting things done. Here I stumbled upon an interview with Paula Rizzo on how to write the perfect to do list.

Here are some things I learnt from Paula.

Sit down and make a list. Why? It has the benefit of calming you down and focusing you at the same time. When you write out a list, you can see the goal in front of you and you can see the intention of the day. They say when you write down your list, you are 33% more likely to stick to it and get it done. You are almost already half way there when you write something down. Another benefit of writing down your tasks is that you create more mental bandwidth, which creates more space for new ideas. When you write down what you need to do, you don't have to remember to remember anything.

It's also good practice to write out your list by hand. This somehow engrains it into your mind in a different way to typing and enhances your commitment to the tasks.

It's best to write your list the night before. This way you can run through the next day in your mind and hit the ground running the next morning. You can do what your intention was for the day, instead of reacting to what everybody else wants you to do. I find that I often have a plan for the day, but by the time I leave the house, I have abandoned my plan and I'm doing things other people are expecting from me.

Be super specific about what you need to do. Try to make all the tasks similar in time and size. It's not realistic to have a large task like 'write a book' on your to do list, so break down the big tasks into smaller steps. Identify the next two things you must do on that task and write that on your to do list. Also, when the tasks are similar in time and size, you are less prone to choose the easy things to do and push out the larger tasks.

Don't fall prey to the planning fallacy - we think we can do more in a day than we really can. They say we often over-estimate what we can do in a day and under-estimate what we can do in a year. Let the list serve you. Make it something you can do in a day.

Your to do list is not a mind dump of all the things you must get to. It's a list in which you've planned out what to do in a day. Take your own productivity style into account when planning your to do list. Think about how long certain tasks takes you to do and when you do your best work. And only put things on your list which you have the time and resources to do. Then you'll set up your to do list for success.

Keep your lists separate. Your home stuff and work stuff should be separate and not all mixed up. It can be on one page but write your work tasks on the left and your home tasks on the right.

Before I leave the office, I identify two tasks I want to have done before the day is done. I write it on my hand and I'm constantly reminded of my intention. This helps me to prioritise the top 1 or 2 things that I have to do. Because I have a lot of tasks every day, this helps me to identify the most important thing I need to do to move forward.

In a nutshell, here it is again:

  • Sit down, write a list
  • Write it by hand
  • Do it the night before
  • Tasks must be similar in size
  • Be very specific
  • Limit the number of tasks. Don't over commit.
  • Plan your tasks according to your own style
  • Only list tasks for which you have time and resources
  • Keep home/work/project lists separate
  • Identify the top two critical tasks each day
  • And my personal best advice is to have one place where you write everything down. And it must be a place you refer to often.

    Be more productive. Let the list serve you.