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The Daily

To Do: Rethink How We Do To-Do Lists

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Sep 30, 2015
ChecklistEver write a to-do list at the start of your day, and by the time you leave the office you find you've only managed to check off less than half the items on it? Your problem might have started with how you wrote your list in the first place, according to an article in Bloomberg. Write your to-do list the wrong way, according to Bloomberg, and the only thing you'll really do is fail to complete your to-do list. 

So what goes into the optimal to-do list? 

First of all, it should be hand-written: studies have shown that we're more likely to remember things when we write them down by hand, versus typing something into a computer, or tapping it into a scheduling app. 

But what about the items themselves? They should be as specific and actionable as possible. So for instance, if you're, say, a staff writer with the Trusted Professional, you shouldn't write something like "work on article." You should instead write something like "Schedule at least three interviews; write preliminary questions for sources; read IRS report; discuss story with editor." 

And then try to break each of these items down into smaller, actionable steps. Doing this can not only help you think more concretely about tasks, it can give you the feeling of making progress by letting you check off items more frequently. (this is why, when I make lists, my first item is always "make list.") 

Even if you completed the items on your list for the day, Bloomberg says it's important to do that again the next: making a list and following through should become a habit, something automatic that you do every day, which makes the creation of the list itself easier. 

Of course, a to-do list is useless if you don't remember what's actually on it. Make sure it's always accessible to you, so you can reference it anytime you need to. 

Finally, make sure you have a realistic understanding of how long a task will actually take. None of the above advice will be useful if you try to schedule eight hours worth of tasks into one.