How to do a proper To-Do


Who likes to feel out of control at work? Who likes to feel continually behind with their work? Who likes to feel overwhelmed?

Not many of us I would guess, but many of us have felt this way at some point and probably  in the fairly recent past. This article can help you reverse, reduce and permanently remove these potentially damaging situations from your work life.

On the last working day before people go on holiday most people create a list. They do this to ensure they forget nothing, prioritize, plan, stay focused and motivated. People like lists because they are quick and simple to create. But they don’t seem to like them enough to do them every day, do they?

This is strange because there are few work days where you would want to forget to do things, where you wouldn’t want to prioritize and plan your tasks, where you wouldn’t want a plan to keep you focused and motivated. So why don’t people always create a list?

Simply because the list which most people have been “advised” to use, the TO DO list, does not work. I’d like to explain why it doesn’t and give you two alternative, more effective solutions:

If you look at a selection of TO DO lists written by different people you will frequently discover:-

  1. Few are prioritised (1st, 2nd 3rd, 4th)

  2. Very few have an estimate of time allocated to each item (#1 – 45mins, #2 – 20mins, #3 – 75mins, #4 – 30mins)

  3. Few contain a line for BREAKS (coffee, lunch and afternoon stretch)

  4. Very few contain a line for interruptions and distractions (unexpected emails, messages, texts, phone calls, people turning up at your desk for example)

  5. Few contain a line for managing email (i.e. not doing the work that’s in the email just sorting through them) or managing other messaging systems

  6. Very few allocate time for planning today or the next day… or the next week

If people don’t prioritise (point 1) they can be indecisive or easily knocked off course during the day. Worst still other people indirectly end up prioritising for them or they spend their entire day asking “What shall I do next?” (dangerous because people often make this decision emotionally, or allow other people again to decide for them).

Point2 - By not estimating how long each item will take you do not have a way of checking how realistic your plan is and do not improve your forecasting skills. This means expectations and expectation setting are often inaccurate which creates undesirable stress and pressure.

Finally if you do not consider points 3,4,5 and 6 not only does your list become “ridiculously” over ambitious, because you’ve ignored in the region of 3 hours of activities, but it will not give you the flexibility to respond to the inevitable requests at short notice.

This is why people give up on TO DO lists. They are not fit for purpose. People tire of seeing their list continually grow and tire of transferring items from list to list, day in day out. So here are 2 better alternatives:-


THE QUICK FIX – Write off half of your day to items 3,4,5 and 6 and only plan/prioritise the other half (a simple solution but not quite so elegant as the best fix)


Remember that if you don’t plan your time there is always plenty of other people willing to step in everyday to do that job for you!