To-do lists that actually work

Want to write to-do lists that actually work? Here’s a selection of best-practice advice from around the web (including a couple from this website):

  • I was already an organised person, and writing my to-do list at night has still changed everything: “What if I could just start working right away? What if I didn’t need to spend a chunk of my oftentimes very productive morning time (what I consider to be my own golden hours!) scrolling through my inbox just to get this list scribbled down? It was then that I decided to make a change to the way I was doing things. And, my friends, I did something so groundbreaking and earth shattering, I still can’t believe I pulled it off.”
  • In which I get things done, mindfully: “Allen’s mantra is: ‘Your head is for having ideas – not for holding them.’ The thing that stops us from relaxing, from approaching our tasks with the level of calm, productive, measured control we’d like to experience, is that unwanted thoughts are bothering us all the time, demanding attention when we least want to give it to them. Allen’s aim – the aim of the entire GTD system – is to free us from these recurring unwanted thoughts, to free us from the need to hang onto them until we’re able to act on them. Sounds a lot like mindfulness, right?”
  • How writing to-do lists helps your brain (whether or not you finish them): “Keeping a list of tasks you need to perform is like taking notes when you’re reading a book or listening to a lecture. When you take notes, you need to filter external information, summarize it in your head, and then write it down. Many studies have shown that note taking helps us distill the information we hear and remember it better than we would if we’d just heard or read it. Writing a to-do list is a similar mental experience.”
  • This common piece of to-do list advice is hogwash: “I recently read a magazine article which on one page suggested “throw your to-do list out the window” because nobody puts important things like “spend time with their children” on their to-do list. On the very next page the article suggested writing all of your chores down in one place so that you can feel confident that they’ll get done (in other words, write a to-do list). So how do you separate the good from the bad? Well, here is a very common piece of advice that I think you can safely ignore every single time: Limit the number of items on your to-do list.”


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