How to Make Your To-Do List Work for You

Many businesspeople make use of to-do lists, trying to accomplish as many goals as possible. These organizational notes can be useful to some extent. Still, there’s the other side of the coin – making to-do lists for the sole sake of making them. As a result, you might keep mounting new tasks on an already overcrowded to-do rack. It will lead to damaged productivity and lowered work output.

We’ve been there, which is why we’d like to show young businesspeople a few efficient ways to make your to-do list actually work for you.

Limit the number of tasks

Populating your to-do list with dozens of daily business tasks and private errands will have a counterproductive effect. The more tasks you add to it, the higher pressure you’re putting on your back.

You’ll neither complete your tasks nor make your list practical for your business purposes.

What you should do instead is limit the number of tasks you add to your list. Of course, their number will depend on the niche you’re working in and your personal work features.

A rule of thumb is to include one big task in your workday, three middle-sized assignments and five smaller things to do. It’s called the 1-3-5 rule.

These nine tasks altogether should be incorporated into the number of hours you’re planning to work that day. Simply arrange a particular amount of time for each of these tasks and your day will be more productive.

Gather the necessary tools

It’s much easier to become and remain productive and organized these days. You can choose from a plethora of project management tasks, to-do apps, and other helpful tools that will make your workday more efficient.

For example, you can improve your project management efficacy by using Basecamp. That way, you simply distribute the tasks you need to delegate or do to different days of the week. Also, this solution keeps track of your progress, which will help you not to forget to do a single task. Of course, you can try and put some other project management tools to practice.

As for the apps, Microsoft To-Do is a reasonable option for every new businessperson. Although you might be suspicious about this app, you should know that it’s simply an improved version of good old Wunderlist. Microsoft bought Wunderlist and now they’ve rebranded it into the new Microsoft To-Do app.

Naturally, there are many other organization-enhancing apps that will enable you to make any kind of to-do list you might like. Try several tools and get the one that suits your needs.

Make to-do lists in advance

When you’ve put your foot on the office floor, it’s too late to think about to-do lists. Carried away by the pressure of the workday, you’re highly likely to neglect some tasks that should be done that day.

Because of that, try to make to-do lists in advance. For instance, you can spend the last half an hour of your workday preparing your tasks for the following day. By doing so, you’ll be able to immediately include the unfinished tasks from that very day on the to-do list for the next day.

What’s more, you should make an effort to create weekly to-do lists. For example, you can distribute five big tasks in five work days for the following work week. They’ll serve as five organizational anchors. When you’ve taken care of those bulky, demanding obligations, it’s easier to arrange the smaller ones around the big ones.

Introduce immediate actions instead of notes

Whenever you can perform a task at once, don’t put it on your to-do list.

This sounds pretty logical, but people often postpone doing some simple tasks for trivial reasons.

Let’s say that you’re sitting in your office and you’ve just got a mail from a long-term client. You only need to reply to that message to confirm some deadlines, which will take about 5 minutes. At the same moment, a colleague of yours enters the office and suggests that you go for a cup of coffee.

What you should always do first is answer that email. You’d spend a few minutes adding that task to your to-do list anyway, so why not performing the action at once?

After that, you’ll have more time for a coffee break and your coffee will most probably taste even better.

This is only an example, but it shows how people (don’t) establish routines. When at work, always give an advantage to work-related stuff.

As opposed to that, don’t jump to do your business tasks in your free time. This form of self-discipline will help you hold the reins of your work and keep only important things on your to-do list.

Avoid postponing big tasks

Your work will consist of big and small tasks. By this, I mean the ones that need more time to be done and the ones that require less time.

Although both types of tasks are important for your business, you should never postpone big tasks. If you apply the aforementioned plan to distribute five big tasks to five work days, work hard not to make changes to that schedule.

When you take care of big tasks first, you’ll be more satisfied with your productivity and performing the smaller ones will be less exhausting.

Apart from that, your brain is fresher during the first stage of your workday. As such, it will prefer tackling the hard tasks first and then relieve the tension by doing less demanding tasks afterward. It can be compared to workout – first you do more difficult exercises and then you relax your body with less demanding ones.

Identify the priorities and outsource

If you’re only at the beginning of your business career, you might be doing all the tasks you get alone. While this is a practical thing, experience-wise, it can have a negative effect on your output after a while.

Therefore, start making preliminary lists of your priorities. Only when you’ve eliminated the petty tasks from that preliminary list should you come up with the final to-do list. Of course, it isn’t a practical thing to perform these elimination round in the middle of a hectic project. That’s why you can perform this identification of priorities once in a fortnight or once a month.

Still, it doesn’t mean that you need to turn down new projects. What you should do is form a group of associates whom you can delegate the projects you can’t do on your own. Outsourcing some business tasks will improve your work organization and harness the number of tasks you put on your to-do list.


Business planning is one of the pillars of productive management. However, too much planning can have a negative effect on work. Therefore, your to-do lists should be your business allies. You’ll keep them on your side if you don’t overdo with the number of tasks you add to them. Applying the strategies from this text will help you find the right measure in creating to-do lists, which will increase your productivity and improve your business results.

Mark Thomasson
Mark is a biz-dev hero at Invoicebus - a simple invoicing service that gets your invoices paid faster. He passionately blogs on topics that help small biz owners succeed in their business. He is also a lifelong learner who practices mindfulness and enjoys long walks in nature more than anything else.
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