How to make your to-do list more manageable

  • By Monika Kristofferson Office Efficiency
  • Tuesday, September 24, 2013 11:16am

What does your “to-do” list look like? Does it consist of sticky notes wrapped around the edge of your computer screen, multiple legal pads with notes scrawled across them or notes scattered on scraps of paper? If so, you’re not alone.

We all have information coming at us regularly, from outside sources and our own thoughts, and we need to capture them quickly. In order to do that, you may have created a “to-do” list. It’s a great start, but that list on its own can quickly become overwhelming. Let’s look at some ways to make your “to-do” list manageable and effective.

For starters, if your “to-do” list consists of lines and lines or pages and pages of tasks, you most likely feel overwhelmed and as if you’ll never get to the bottom of your list. I want you to feel a sense of accomplishment when you cross items off your list. To do this, create a master list so you can get all your tasks out of your head and onto paper, in a Word document or on an electronic list. Every day, I want you to create a “shorty to-do list” using your master list as a guide. Choose about three to five tasks to keep it manageable. When you work from a short list, you will have the satisfaction of getting everything crossed off the list. If you have time, you can add a couple more tasks. If you run out of time, you can put those tasks on tomorrow’s list.

This leads me to define a “to-do” list vs. a critical task. Items on your “to-do” list can usually be pushed to another day without negative consequences. Examples of “to-do” tasks may consist of reading an article, ordering supplies, filling out a form, making a phone call, etc.

A critical task is just that, it’s critical. This is a task that has no business on a “to-do” list. If this task isn’t completed, it will lead to negative consequence. Examples of critical tasks are filing a tax return, paying a vendor, completing payroll or finishing a project with a deadline. Where should this task be listed? Directly on your calendar as a scheduled task with no interruptions.

Make your list and check it twice. Review your master list often to see if anything can be removed because your goals, projects or duties have changed. Each day, when you create your “shorty to-do list,” chose tasks that will be the most helpful and relevant to accomplish what’s important that day.

Choose a system and stick to it. The options for creating lists are plentiful, but don’t get overwhelmed. Think about what works for you and your natural habits. Are you a paper and pen person? Then purchase one notebook or one legal pad and keep your list in one place. Are you a gadget geek? Embrace it. There are tons of apps out there to choose from, so just experiment a bit and find the one that works well for you. A few apps that you can check out: List Master and iProcrastinate for iPhones and for Android phones. My personal favorite is Evernote, which can be used on an iPhone or Android phone as well as your desktop.

Make sure your list is manageable and dependable so you can enjoy the sweet smell of victory as you cross tasks off of your list each day.

Monika Kristofferson is a professional organizer, productivity consultant and trainer who owns Efficient Organization in Lake Stevens. Reach her at 425-220-8905 or