Key Learning Outcomes

  • Creating a to-do list will ensure you use your time effectively, focus on important activities and feel in control.
  • Learn about the importance of creating a new to-do list every day before you leave work.
  • Understand the importance of focusing on the top priority tasks and those than can be carried out quickly.
  • Use our templates to prepare a to-do list with your tasks assigned to one of the three categories of priority.


Not working with a to-do list is one of the top time management mistakes that many busy people make. It is one of those things that falls into the category of being “easy to do” but also “easy not to do”. If you make this one of your daily habits you will find not only are you using your time more effectively, you are also focused on the important tasks and feel more organised and in control.

It is also important to be mindful that not all to-do lists are created equal; there are some key features and disciplines that you need to adopt to ensure that your to-do list is not just a task list but an effective time management tool. Here are our top tips for operating with an effective to-do list.[wlm_ismember]

A new list must be written every day

A lot of people use an ongoing list adding tasks over the course of a few days or longer. This can make the list look overwhelming and can also wreak havoc with prioritising your tasks and daily planning. By writing a new list every day you can be more focused on what actually needs to be achieved for the day, and you will ensure important tasks are not overlooked.

You must compile tomorrow’s list before you leave work each day

This allows you to start work in the morning ready and raring to go. So while others are spending the first 30 to 45 minutes of the day thinking about what needs to be done, you have probably already powered through several things on your list. Writing the list the night before has a few other key advantages: you will focus more on what you have achieved for the day and what still needs to be done; you are much less likely to be distracted by people and emails; and most importantly you will leave work with a clear plan which helps to eliminate stress and worry.

Remember your ABCs 

One of the key elements to an effective to-do list is making sure you prioritise the tasks. From experience we have found that the KISS (keep it simple) principle works best, as too many categories can get confusing. A category ‘A’ task is something that has to be done today. A ‘B’ task is something that would be good to do today, but if it is not done it becomes an ‘A’ tomorrow. ‘C’ tasks are things that can wait.

Be alert for D tasks

Do not put anything on your list that you do not need to do. A ‘D’ task is something that you can delegate or is something that you don’t need to do. You should delegate tasks when there is someone else in the business that can do the job more efficiently and effectively, or when your time will be better spent on something more important.

Be prepared and look for the quick wins  

When writing your list add any information that will help you hit the ground running the next morning. For example, if one of the things on your list is to call John Smith, make sure you write the phone number so you do not waste valuable time having to look it up. Stay focused on the ‘A’ list and look for those things that can be done quickly. This allows you to get a few things crossed off the list first thing in the morning.

We are often asked if the list should be hand written or if you should use one of the many software tools that are available. There are a lot of great tools available online and you might find one that suits your needs really well once you are in the habit of using a to-do list. Software is particularly useful when you are managing a larger project. The disadvantage is that you have to have your computer or other device open to use the tool, and this can expose you to distractions such as calendar alerts, emails or texts. Additionally, the list will go into the background when you are working on other things, which means you have to keep going back in to check it. Our preference is a handwritten list. It allows you to have the list with you at all times and keeps the task list top of mind through the day.

You may find our template is a good place to start. It is formatted with priority categories for you to simply write tasks on the list. There is also a box in the bottom right-hand corner that allows you to write any personal items that you need to keep top of mind. You will find two templates – one is blank for you to print off, and the other has been filled in as a sample.

A final tip is once you get used to the format we suggest you use a spiral-bound A4 book. On the left-hand page write your to-do list for the day. During the course of the day use the right-hand page to add any notes or comments. Not only does this help you compile your list at the end of the day in readiness for tomorrow, it is also serves as a record of things you may want to look back on.[/wlm_ismember]

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