to do list

With the new year a few days away, I wanted to offer a useful article on the most basic of motivational and organizational tools, the humble to-do list.  Some lessons have to be learned over and over, and in my case it is implemenation of a to-do list.  I know I’m not alone in this, because I took a poll over a couple of days, and did not find one person that was properly using a to-do list.

What were they doing wrong?  Well, assuming they even maintained a to-do list, they did not have it with them.  Most had a to-do list on their desk at work, but that fails to do anything about personal goals and long-term projects.

So, my simple advice:  Keep it with you and keep it simple.  I experienced a quantum leap in efficiency in bringing all my back-burner projects to the front burner when I started keeping a to-do list in my top pocket.  If I have a thought, I pull it out and write it down.  Yes, I WRITE it down.  I keep an electronic to-do list on my iPhone, and it syncs across my Kindle Fire, iPad and PC (the program I use — Remember the Milk — is free at  That is very useful, and I really like that I can sit down for a brainstorming session and create a master list of projects and then break it down into individual tasks, but in my experience a lot of my spontaneous ideas don’t get recorded if I have to pull out my phone and navigate to a to-do program, and then type in my thoughts.  Pen and paper still wins, at least for me.

On that subject, I came across the following article by Lawrence Ng [reprinted here with permission]about implementing to-do lists.  It’s all pretty common sense stuff, but as my poll revealed, most people don’t follow these suggestions.


Do you create effective to-do list? It is sad to note that many of us do not create any to-do list before start our works. To-do list is one of the key planning tools in time management which a lot of people overlook.

Below are some of the reasons why people choose not to create their to-do list.

1. Procrastination

Some of these people have tried to make a list but due to their procrastination habit, things keep putting off. Even, if they have created their own list, the top item will be how to motivate them to do to-do list.

2. Past failure

Due to their past failure to complete the task on the list, they have stopped working on the list. Either the list is unrealistic or no commitment from them.

3. Overwhelmed with the list

They have too many items in the list, too little time and feel overwhelm with the long list. Those uncompleted items will be carried forward to next days and the list keeps growing until a stage where it is too long and unmanageable. This is the time where they give up.

4. Laziness

Some of these people have created the to-do list before but due to their laziness to refer to it, the to-do list becomes useless tool to them. Besides that, some prefer to enjoy their life rather than committed to the list.

5. Trust their Memory

Some of them prefer to rely on their memory to do their virtual to-do list instead of writing down. This create overload problem in their head or forget something as our memory has certain limitation and subject to interruption.

6. Avoidance

They choose to avoid the tasks by not thinking on them. Therefore, without the list, no commitment is required.

7. Depression

Feeling depressed whenever been reminded on tasks, particularly when there is a lot list tasks or activities.

Building an effective To Do List is a must if we want to improve our time management skill. According to time management experts, you can increase your productivity by 25 percent on the first day that you work based on the list. Based on the reasons presented above, below are some techniques to build a better To Do List

1. Written To-Do List

The truth is you cannot rely on your memory alone to store and track all the tasks as our memory has certain limitations. This will create overloading and stress into your life. Therefore, we need to write them down, either on paper or any electronic organizers. In fact writing will sharpen your thinking, stimulate your creativity and focus far better than thinking out from your mind.

2. Capture all your To-Dos in one place

A lot of people just simply jot down their to-dos in a variety of places; papers, envelopes, computer, organizer, napkins. You only can plan your tasks properly only if you have everything written down in one reliable place. Be honest and as thorough as possible so that you do not have to worry that you have forgotten any later.

3. Master To-Do List and Daily To-Do List

Create two types of to-do list, master to-do list and daily to-do list. Master to-do list is for you to list down whatever things that you can think off right now or new tasks in future. It basically serves as repository of tasks. Every night, go through the master to-do list and transfer those tasks that you planned to do tomorrow into a daily to-do list. Prioritize the daily to-do list according to ABCD prioritization method. Set the time frame for each task.

4. Break the tasks

By breaking down the tasks into smaller parts, sufficient for Next Action, you can reduce the effect of overwhelm of any big projects. (Next Action is a term used by David Allen, Getting Things Done, which defines the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion). It is easier to focus on smaller parts of activities and at the same in alignment with your objectives.

5. Specify with physical activity

Visualize how you are going to work on it and with the any tools or equipments to complete the task.

6. Be more specific

Phrase your task with verb, noun and object. Instead of “schedule a meeting”, phrase it as “schedule a staff meeting on next Monday, 9 am, to discuss on project A”.

7. Am I the best person to perform this job?

Always ask yourself am I the best person to perform this job. If not, delegate the job to someone else. This is to ensure you are making the best use of your time at all time.

8. Commitment

Once the task is in your list, you need to be committed to complete it. Treat it as a contract that you have signed and penalty will be imposed for failure to complete the job on time. If you cannot commit it, do not place the item in your to do list.

The most important is you need to practice work on the to-do list until it become a habit. Once you have mastered it, you will become more productive and efficient whenever you use it.

“One of the secrets of getting more done is to make a TO DO List every day, keep it visible, and use it as a guide to action as you go through the day.” – Alan Lakein

Lawrence Ng.

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