What To Do When Having A To-Do List Fails

Most of the time, I work pretty well off of a list.

At the start of every business day, I will generally sit down and make a list of things that I want to accomplish that day.  I do so by reviewing my e-mail, my calendar, my previous day’s list, any recurring items, and whatever else comes to mind of things that I have to get done or want to get done.

This also holds true for other aspects in life, such as keeping up on things around the house.

As is probably the case most of the time, I put the ‘must do’ stuff toward the top of the list, or highlight those items and tackle them first.

Sometimes, though, if none of the items are pressing (i.e. immediately due), I’ll find myself less productive.  Even though the list is there, it’s almost too daunting.

What do I do then?


I start putting the items in order.  At work, I still work off a pen and paper system, so I’ll actually go through the list and start ordering the tasks in how I want to get them done.  It puts anything pressing towards the top, but if there’s flexibility in what I want to do, I’ll sometimes split up similar tasks so that I can keep things variable.

Just having a list will often get me back in the swing of things.  Why?  Because if I have twenty things to do, trying to figure out which one of the items to do can take up more time than it should.  But, if I’ve got things listed 1-20, then I know what I’m supposed to be working on now, what I’m working on next, and what I’ll be working on after that.

What type of system do you use to keep track of your to-do lists, and what tricks have you learned that keep you motivated when you start to lose focus?

11 thoughts on “What To Do When Having A To-Do List Fails”

  1. I also have a to do list and I deliberately break tasks down on the list to the point where they're really easy so I can at least check off part of a task. Usually once I get started I'm motivated to do more.

    So if I think I might have a flat on my bike I won't write "fix flat", it will be "check if tire is flat", "buy tube", "take old tube off", "put new tube on", "air up tire". It sounds stupid but it works for me.

  2. I have messy to do lists on a notepad on my desk. Then I have longer term to-do's in my task list in my Outlook. I'm pretty good about getting through both lists, but the Outlook one gets pushed aside more often.

  3. I can't remember a time when I did not have a to do list. There are times when it is shorter than others. If I ever had nothing to do, I would find things to get done. There is never a shortage of those things. If not, my wife will be glad to give a list.

  4. I keep a master list of things that need to be done, and break them out into longer term or short-term priorities. I then decide what will be tackled this week, and then assign a day to that task.

    Personally, I'm big on to do lists. They keep me organized and motivated too.

  5. I love to-do lists! The only problem is that I have found sometimes I am just into doing things to be able to cross them off–which misses a lot of the point.

  6. I am the same way whereas if there is no deadline I am a bit less productive than I would be if there were to be a deadline!

    I started putting time limits on a lot of the different things I do that helps a good bit to make sure I don't get distracted or procrastinate. It's very good for things I don't really love to do, such as cleaning the house, lol.

  7. I had to make weekly blog checklists because I had so many tiny tasks to do daily that I kept forgetting about! Woot for to-do lists!!!

  8. I don't usually use a to-do list, but if I'm stressed it really helps me remember what needs to be done.

    I can get distracted by other things and the list also helps keep focus.

  9. I use Google calendar to keep track of my to-do list. I like it because I can view it from anywhere (either on a computer, or on my phone) and because it's easy to rearrange things on it.

  10. @Jackie – I just added an item to my To-Do list to check out how I can use my Google Calendar for this. I figure it was baby steps, first get the 'paper' usage down and then look at upgrading this. Maybe it's time to give it a shot. I like that I'll be able to check in from my mobile phone and all that.

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