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To-do list: the complete guide to boosting your to-do lists

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In life there are two types of people: those who make to-do lists and the others. Whether you already belong to the first category or are seriously considering joining the “to-do list” club, the following tips may be of interest to you because, let’s face it, there is a to-do list and a to-do list…!

A whole world separates the reminder scribbled on the corner of a loose leaf from the real action-list that will help you stay on track all day long, even for weeks and months on end.

There are as many to-do lists as there are situations. In fact, we often tend to mistakenly believe that to-do lists are not capable of adapting to long or complex projects, and that they are only a small addition to our daily organisation.

To-do lists have many advantages, such as boosting our motivation, helping us to get our heads above water, lightening our mental load and organising our time in a realistic and concrete way. They also have a considerable potential, and some small, simple improvements can enable you, with a minimum of effort, to transform your classic to-do list into a powerful organisational tool.

1. A good to-do list = words + symbols + colours

In terms of organisation, we tend to use only one language: words. However, this is not always the most suitable. The tools we use for our organisation must indeed be able to transmit a maximum of information in a minimum of time and effort.

So why not take advantage of the richness of the visual language? Choose a colour code and symbols that will allow you to communicate the equivalent of several words in one sign.

For example, you can choose a yellow to-do list for your professional activities and a pink one for your personal activities, write your priority tasks in red or symbolise their importance with a suitable pictogram.

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2. Adopt different scales

Most of us use to-do lists for everyday tasks, but moving from one day to the next has its drawbacks. Not least of all, the risk of finding yourself only managing emergencies or failing to prioritise your tasks.

This is why we advise you to start with your biggest tasks, for example projects that you would like to have started – if not completed – by the end of the year. Note them on a to-do list “2021”.

Then break down each of these projects into several blocks, which you will divide over the months. Choose one or two major tasks to accomplish each month. You can set a time at the end or beginning of each month to plan the next month according to the monthly tasks you wish to accomplish. This will enable you to keep an eye on your medium-term goals, while staying in touch with the reality of everyday life.

3. Break down your goals into tasks

Speaking of goals, do you know how to write your to-do lists so that they serve their primary purpose, which is to help you actually do things?

A to-do list is not a good resolutions or wish list. It is, literally, a to-do list. Keep this in mind when creating your to-do list. Each entry must correspond to a concrete action, not an goal.

Forget formulations such as: “Finish the file for Patricia” and prefer more concrete tasks such as: “Proofread the file for Patricia” or “Send the file to Patricia”.

4. In terms of to-do list, accuracy is the condition for action

In the same vein, be precise when writing your lists. Clearly defining each of the taks that needs to be accomplished in your day or week will help you to better manage your time and maintain a better overall vision of your projects.

Do not hesitate to detail your tasks as much as possible. For example, instead of “Proofread the file for Patricia” you could write “Proofread the file for Patricia and integrate all the corrections”.

Thinking in advance about all the actions that underlie each of your tasks will enable you to be more aware of the work that awaits you and therefore to have more realistic expectations of yourself and thus avoid frustration.

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5. Estimate the time needed

If you had to choose only one piece of advice to apply in this guide, it would be this: estimate the time needed for each of your tasks.

Indicate this time next to each of your tasks. If you have chosen to write a to-do list for your day, don’t forget that it has a limited number of hours! This exercise will help you to manage your time better and to be more realistic and indulgent with yourself.

And to do this, don’t forget that we spend an average of 30% of our time dealing with the unexpected! So plan some time in your day for all your basic “daily” tasks, such as reading and answering your e-mails, as well as for the unexpected.

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6. Your to-do list should also help you prioritise and categorise

Are you familiar with the “1, 3, 5” organization rule? It stipulates that we should plan our days with a maximum of 1 main task, 3 sub-tasks and 5 quick tasks.

But of course, rules are also meant to be bent. What should be remembered here is that it is essential to prioritise the actions to be carried out in our day. And in order for this to be possible, you should not overload yourself with urgent and important tasks.

If you have difficulty prioritising, we advise you to consult our article on time management and test the prioritisation grid method presented there. This will help you to prioritise your tasks according to their degree of urgency and importance. Then choose a simple visual code for your priority tasks.

7. Organise your to-do list at your own pace

You should then adapt all of this at your own pace. The morning may not be the time of day when your productivity is at its peak. You will then reserve the least demanding tasks at that time.

According to an English study, it would take an average of 66 days to adopt a new habit. Perseverance will be your best ally here! While you will certainly need time to adapt, the strategy will pay off in the long term.

After just over two months, you will be able to perfectly estimate the time needed for each activity and will have learned when your energy is best suited to a particular type of activity.

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8. Plan for rewards and breaks

In addition to the unexpected and the daily activities we’ve talked about before, you’ll need to think about taking breaks… and treating yourself with some rewards!

To do so, you can include in your to-do list, just after your priority task, a reward that will allow you to take a break in your day, before starting your secondary tasks, with a lighter heart.

9. Give yourself time: think about making a weekly to-do list rather than a daily one

Although daily to-do lists are what we are most used to doing, they are also the most risky. Indeed, we tend to concentrate a maximum of activities in a relatively short period of time.

Making your to-do list by the week rather than by the day will reduce the risk of ending up with a large amount of unfinished tasks at the end of the week.

It will probably take several weeks before you can accurately estimate the amount of time you need to set aside for all your daily activities (answering your e-mails, etc.) and the unexpected and thus reduce the amount of unfinished tasks at the end of the week.

To do so, you can include in your to-do list, just after your priority task, a reward that will allow you to take a break in your day, before starting your secondary tasks, with a lighter heart.

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10. What about a "done list"?

It’s good for the mood… and for your assessment! Go beyond the pleasure of crossing out each of your completed tasks and put them on a “done list”, literally, a “list of things done”.

In addition to boosting your motivation, this practice will enable you to make a precise assessment of the actions you have carried out, for example every month. This will allow you to analyse the time actually spent on each project or activity.

This done-list can help you to make more accurate estimates, which are very useful, especially if your activity involves making estimates based on your working time.

In a word

How to write an effective to-do list?

  1. Use words, colour coding and symbols,
  2. Make to-do lists at different scales (year, month, weeks…),
  3. Break down your objectives into tasks,
  4. Be specific,
  5. Estimate the time required for each task,
  6. Prioritise and categorise your tasks,
  7. Adapt your to-do list to your own rythm,
  8. Plan for rewards and breaks,
  9. Give yourself some time: think weekly rather than daily,
  10. Make a done-list!

The power of a carefully drafted to-do list is often underestimated. This simple “little piece of paper” can indeed prove to be a great help in many situations! Combined with Foglietto’s modularity, you can fully integrate it into your projects, for example with theKanban folders or by using the memo card numbering system to easily associate notes with the tasks you need to carry out. In short, the to-do list is a simple and effective way to better manage your time!

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To-do lists have many advantages, such as boosting our motivation, helping us to get our heads above water, lightening our mental load and organising our time in a realistic and concrete way. They also have a significant potential, and some small, simple improvements can enable you, with a minimum of effort, to transform your classic to-do list into a powerful organisational tool.

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To-do lists have many advantages, such as boosting our motivation, helping us to get our heads above water, lightening our mental load and organising our time in a realistic and concrete way. They also have a significant potential, and some small, simple improvements can enable you, with a minimum of effort, to transform your classic to-do list into a powerful organisational tool.

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