Life is busy. No matter how much you try to simplify your life, there still seems to be a constant stream of things to do. Things to buy, tasks to take care of, chores to do and broken things to fix. If you’re self-employed or run a business, you can multiply that by 20 times. On top of all this, if you’ve got kids, your to-do list is off the scale.

How can we take care of all these obligations, tasks and chores without completely losing our minds?

Here is a simple solution…Ready?

The Nightly To-do List

Yep, that’s right. It’s not a very sexy productivity tip nor is it particularly mind-blowing. You might already be using to-do lists. But here are some distinctions and refinements below that many people don’t apply when using to-do lists.

Why Are To-do Lists Effective?

  1. They free up your mind, so that you don’t have to remember everything you’re supposed to do. More clarity in the mind, less stress.
  2. Writing down a task is a small sign of commitment. You’re much more likely to take action on something that’s written down than if it’s just buried somewhere in the deep recesses your mind.
  3. Easy self-accountability. Every day, you’re monitoring actions taken and actions postponed.

How to Get the Most Out of Your To-do List

1. Write your list within about 30 minutes before going to bed. You’re setting the tone for the following day. Don’t wake up and then write your to-do list. You want to be able to wake up and already know what your first and most important tasks are.

2. Paper vs. digital to-do lists. What’s better? I use mostly hand-written to-do lists. It feels more real and like I’m committing myself to my actions more (as I mentioned above). I also like physically checking off items that I completed. It just feels a bit more satisfying than using a digital to-do list.

There are advantages to the digital to-do list though. It’s easier to keep just one constantly evolving to-do list. With paper, you’re writing out your to-do’s every day, including items that you didn’t finish. With a digital to-do list, incomplete items are always on the same list until you complete them. A digital to-do list also has a cleaner presentation. For time-sensitive to-do’s, the digital to-do list is perfect because you can set reminder alarms.

Experiment with both types of to-do lists. You’ll probably find it effective to use a combination.

3. Spend less than 5 minutes writing your to-do’s. It should be something quick and simple. Write down to-do’s that must be done and are of importance. This way, your attention and focus is concentrated on what you really need to do. I tend to keep my list to a maximum of 10 items.

Implied items don’t make it onto my list. If you walk or run 5 days a week, you don’t need to write down this habitual “to-do”. It’s implied in your daily routine.

4. Use verbs and be more specific! Most peoples’ to-do lists look like this:
Typical To-do List

  • photocopies
  • broken washing machine
  • new laptop

The effective to-do list (which has specific actions) should look like this:

Effective To-do List

  • pick up photocopies
  • phone repair shop for quote on broken washing machine
  • visit 3 or 4 stores to look at laptop prices

It takes a bit longer to write the extra details, but now you have a list of specific actions. You don’t have to think, you can spring into action. I learned about this tip from online entrepreneur, Marie Forleo. Check out her helpful (and entertaining) video on to-do lists: Get More Done With This “To Do List” Tweak. Plus, she has fantastic hair. I’m serious. It’s ethereal.

5. At the end of each day, check off items you completed so that you keep yourself accountable. This seems like an insignificant action, but the value is dual-fold. You can feel a sense of accomplishment when you review the items you completed. The second benefit is that it lets you know what you didn’t complete and keeps you accountable. If the items that you didn’t complete are truly important, write them down again for tomorrow’s to-do items.

6. Write to-do’s every night. Get in the habit of doing it every day, even on weekends or days off.

Remember: Busyness is highly overrated. It also feeds our egos by making us feel “important”.

Filling your day with too many tasks and rushing around all day in a stressed state is not productive, effective or healthy. And yet, this is what is advocated in most workplaces, businesses and in our goofy society, in general. Before you write an item on your to-do list, make sure that you really need to do it.

This involves simplifying your life, your business and your way of looking at the world. To reduce obligations in life, you may need to do something “radical” like going car-free (think of all the time and to-do’s associated with vehicle ownership).

You can reduce certain social obligations. You can say “no” a little more often when people ask you to do something that you really don’t have time for or are feeling unwilling to do.

How do you use to-do lists? Leave a comment below.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media.


  1. I also like to attach a realistic time frame for each item on the list. Helps me to combat Parkinson’s Law and time-manage more efficiently.

    1. Yes, attaching a realistic time frame helps keep us sane and happier. Sure, we could do more in a day but there are a lot of people overrun with responsibilities and to-do’s…it doesn’t make them happier, for sure. There is a better way! Easy does it. Thanks for checking in with the articles, Ryno.

Comments are closed.