How to Create a Functional to-do List

to do note

Organizational skills are needed to accomplish great things. Even fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants people need to have a guideline of where they’re going. A functional to do list is one that efficiently serves its purpose and helps you accomplish your tasks. Anyone can write a daily task list. However, if you don’t have the right process to make it functional, you won’t accomplish as much as you’d like to.

See also: Your Job is too Stressful

Online entrepreneur and consultant, Patricia Goodman outlines on her leadership training website that there are five major benefits of creating to do lists.

  1. Puts us in the driver’s seat where we have control over our lives
  2. Helps us easily set into order the priorities in our lives
  3. Frees our mind to be okay if we forget something since we have a list
  4. Keeps us focused and on track to accomplish our goals
  5. Identifies a daily personal road map toward success

Steps to Create a Functional To Do List

Step # 1: Plan

The first step involves planning ahead the night before for the next day. Be clear headed when planning out your list and don’t worry about being exact. Nothing is set in stone. This is simply an exercise in beginning to get organized. To do lists are meant to be reviewed.

Step # 2: Divide

In order for the list to be completely functional, it needs to be divided into three sections—urgent, important and not so urgent. The purpose of this step is to prioritize your tasks so you don’t get sidetracked and work on something that is not as urgent.

Step # 3: Write

In this step you need to actually write out the tasks in an organized, legible list—or in the case of using technology, typing it out. Don’t worry about forgetting some tasks. That will inevitably happen. As you are working on completing the list the next day, you may be adding a few things to it.  

Step # 4: Keep

I am a note taking and list maker. My husband says that sometimes it’s to the extreme. For this step you need to make sure the list is visible and within your focus the next day. There’s no point in writing out a list if you misplace it or don’t pay attention to it. This is where technology can benefit you. If you utilize one of the resources listed at the end of this article, you can set reminders and daily emails or texts regarding tasks on your to do list.

Step # 5: Check

As you go throughout the day and begin to accomplish your tasks, be sure to check them off your list. I like to use a red pen or black marker to make a statement to myself that I completed something. Seeing the list get checked off can affect you in one of two ways. Either you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment in completing tasks or a sense of despair that you may not finish everything on your list. Always look to the bright side and be happy with what you’ve completed.

Step # 6: Review

At the end of the day, take the time to review your list. Did you complete each task? How many tasks are left? You’ll start over again at step one and make a new list for the next day and add the uncompleted tasks to it.

Resources to Assist in Creating Functional To Do Lists

Adam Pash and Gina Trapani wrote Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster & Better which offers creative ways to make your life easier. One of the main goals in this resource is to help readers create to do lists and learn exciting methods to balance current technology and common sense solutions.

Pash and Trapani offer the following five action steps in creating to do lists:

  1. Remember you are the boss of you and can “order yourself around.”
  2. Only put items on the list that you are definitely planning to complete.
  3. Focus only on the next item, not on the entire to do list.
  4. It is important to keep your daily to do list short.
  5. Don’t forget to purge and update your to do lists weekly.

There are software programs and online resources that can be utilized in creating to do lists.

  1. Gmail and Microsoft Outlook offer users a task list to help them stay organized each day.
  2. Remember the Milk allows users to manage and share tasks and access them from mobile devices.
  3. Todoist allows users to access tasks from anywhere and collaborate on shared tasks.
  4. Toodledo offers sortable online to do lists with customizable fields and users can import tasks from other sources.       


See also: Bringing Technology to the To Do List


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We are all wired differently. Not every system will work for each person. It pays off in the long run to research what has worked for other successful people like Patricia Goodman and the authors of the Lifehacker book. Creating a daily to do list is beneficial to accomplishing tasks. If you follow the simple steps discussed in this article, you will be able to create functional to do lists to help you stay organized and efficient.





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