8 ways to make your to-do list a thing of beauty and efficiency

1. Write your to-do list before you do anything else. Write down everything you’re hoping to get done. Then draw a line under it, quite literally. Anything else you think of has to go below the line and can get done tomorrow (unless it’s really urgent, like paying your tax).

2. With anything slightly daunting or writing-related, break it down into chunks. If you’re writing something, then each chunk (the thinking part, the drafting part, the reshaping part, the proofreading part) gets its own line and its own tick once it’s done. I’ve spoken about this before, and I’m sure I’ll speak about it again: writing is much better treated as a series of different stages.

3. On a similar note, be specific. So don’t just write down ‘Arrange meeting’. Write down the steps of the process which will make you get this done, eg find phone number of venue, make phone call…). It means you won’t spend time dithering about how to get started.

4. Tackle the hardest thing first, or at least once you’ve had your coffee. If you’re putting off writing a difficult email or getting started on a blog post, do it now. It’ll give you a feeling of energy and give you the boost you need to attack the next thing on your list.

5. If something has hung around since yesterday, then rewrite it on today’s to-do list with a circled number. So if it’s been carried forward once, it’ll have a circled ‘2’ next to it. But if you’ve had to carry it forward yet another time, it’ll have a circled ‘3’ next to it. The higher the number, the more important that you just sit down and do it.

6. Here’s a way to use numbers as a carrot rather than a stick. At the end of each line, write a number related to the difficulty of the task. So if something is easy, you just get 1 point, but if something is rather daunting and you’ve been putting it off, you get 5. Then after a morning’s work, add up your points. Obviously the more the better.

7. Enjoy the act of marking something off as done. And then go one step further: draw a line vertically through everything that’s crossed off. It’ll give you an incentive to get rid of those pesky little jobs that stop you from joining up your vertical lines.

8. Take pleasure in seeing what you’ve achieved. Looking back is as important as looking forwards.

I can’t promise I always do all of these things all of the time, but I know that each of them helps me at least some of the time. And if I didn’t have lists in my life, I’d find it a struggle to make my way through everything that comes at me. We all need lists to get us through the more difficult days.