More Tips for Top Notch To-Do Lists

For the past few months, I’ve been sharing tips, examples, and ideas to help you get organized. This week I’m going to share a few more strategies to help you up your game on the most effective organizational tool: your to-do lists.

Strategy 1: Smart Design


Did you know that there’s a whole science to how grocery stores are laid out?

Not only are items divided into sections based on category (produce, meats, breads, canned soups, spices, etc.), but the flow of the physical spaces are designed with a specific logic to help you move through the store and easily find the items you need -- and of course to try to get you to buy as much as possible. There are store designers whose entire careers are dedicated to studying predictions of consumer behavior, and using them to determine things like what items to display on aisle endcaps and which colors should be featured on the shelves at eye-level height shelves.

If stores can use behavioral sciences to manipulate our in-store purchasing, we can apply similar smart design principles to increase the effectiveness of our to-do lists. Here are some ideas for organizing your list to encourage smarter behaviors:

  • Group tasks that are related to one another together, so you can tackle them all in close succession. Knowing you can complete several items in one sitting is a great motivator.

  • Put one or two “quick wins” -- easy to accomplish tasks -- toward the beginning of your list so you can start making progress right away. If you procrastinate on the early items, you risk sabotaging progress on the whole list.

  • Include longer term and more complex tasks, but keep them toward the middle or end of the list, so they don't scare you off from getting started in the first place.

  • Remain flexible about your priorities. Less urgent items can be moved around or postponed if more urgent items require immediate attention.

Strategy 2: Picking the Right Platform

There are so many options for how and where we keep our to-do lists.

  • The old-fashioned paper and pen list, which gives us the satisfaction of physically crossing out completed items.

  • Applications on our phones or computers that link to our calendars and send us reminders.

  • Post-it notes scattered across our desks and counters.

Which way is the best way? As with all tough questions, the answer is -- IT DEPENDS!

And it depends on you.

You need to take some time for self reflection and get to know your own habits and preferences.  Doing so will allow you to pick a platform that maximizes your chances for success. Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

  1. For managing your calendar and schedule, do you use a paper planner? Do you do everything on your phone? Do you primarily handle scheduling when you are at your computer? Do you use one thing for your personal schedule and another for your work stuff?

  2. How do you set reminders for yourself? Do you put post-its by the front door? Do you schedule pop-up reminders on your calendar?

  3. Are you looking for a whole new system, or just some small tweaks to help you be more productive and organized?

Keep in mind that you’re trying to set yourself up for success, so you want to make sure you pick a method -- or a combination of methods -- that fit your life and how you already organize your information.