Preparing and Using To-Do Lists

L. Douglas Mault

February 2005

A "To-Do List" is a list of all the tasks that you need to carry out. It consolidates all the tasks that you have to do into one place. You can then prioritize these tasks into order of importance. This allows you to tackle the most important ones first.

To-Do Lists are essential when you need to carry out a number of different tasks or different sorts of task, or when you have made a number of commitments. If you find that often you have forgotten to do something then you really need to make and use a To-Do List.

All too often problems seem overwhelming, or you may have a seemingly huge number of demands on your time. This may leave you somewhat out of control and feeling overburdened with work. The magic of To-Do Lists is that they are quite simple, yet they are also extremely powerful, both as a method of organizing yourself and as a way of reducing stress.

The process of preparing a To-Do List is simple: Write down the tasks that face you, and if they are large, break them down into their component elements. If these still seem large, break them down again.

Do this until you have listed everything that you have to do. Once you have done this, run through these tasks allocating priorities from "very important" to "unimportant" using your own coding system—something like listing from "A to E" or "1 to 5." If too many tasks are "very important," run through the list again and demote the less important ones. Once you have done this, rewrite the list in priority order.

You will then have a precise sequence that you can use to eliminate many of the problems you face. You will be able to tackle these in order of importance. This allows you to separate important jobs from the many time-consuming, trivial ones.

Different people use To-Do Lists in different ways, in different situations: If you are in a sales-related role, a good way of motivating yourself is to keep your list relatively short and aim to complete it every day or every week.

If you’re in an operational role, or if tasks are large or dependent on too many other people, then it may be better to keep one list and chip away at it.

It may be that you carry unimportant jobs from one To-Do List to the next. You may not be able to complete some very low priority jobs for several months. Only worry about this if you need to or if, for example, you are running up against a deadline. If that’s the case, then raise the priority of those jobs that aren’t getting done in time.

About the Author
L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash.