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  • Writer's pictureJulie Morgenstern

A Productivity Expert's Four Secrets for Effective To-do Lists

To-do lists are foundational productivity tools to help us stay focused and manage our priorities. It can be a challenge to find the type of list that’s best for you. You might have tried a variety of systems but never found one that helped you meet your goals. This disconnect happens because making a to-do list is more complicated than many people realize. You need to go beyond simply jotting down random action items. Let’s explore different to-do list options as well as four secrets from productivity experts on making the most effective to-do list possible.


Modern list-makers have many different options for planning goals. Old-fashioned pen and paper lists will never go out of style because they’re easy to start and update on the fly. You don’t need any special equipment or technology to make a paper list. However, there are also other options including apps, calendars, notebooks, bullet journals, and more.

What style of to-do lists are best? Every list type has its pros and cons and any list can be helpful if you use it strategically. You’ll be most successful with your list by using these four productivity expert tips.

1. Use One List For All Your Items

Make sure to capture all your to-do items in one single place. Spreading your goals around multiple apps, systems, trackers, and other tools is only going to confuse you. If you maintain one list for work tasks, another for personal errands, and a separate tool for fitness goals, you’ll waste time switching back and forth between these tools.

2. Add A Deadline For Every Goal

Set a due date or deadline for all the items on your list. Vague to-dos that don’t have an end date rarely get done. If you tell yourself you’ll handle a task “someday,” “later,” or “when there’s time,” you’ll just keep putting off this job.

Productivity experts recommend adding dates to your to-do list to dodge mental blocks. You can also tie your list to your calendar! Add your to-do list items to the day they’re due, or the day you’ll start working on them. This step turns general dreams into actionable plans.

3. Include Time Estimates

It’s not enough to add a due date to your to-do list. You should also consider how long you’ll need to complete a task. Time estimates help you be realistic about your goals and commitments. Once you’re face to face with how long a task will take, you might decide it’s not worth the effort invested.

4. Carry Your To-Do Lists With You

Finally, you should keep your to-do list with you at all times. Refer to your list throughout the day to stay on track and update your priorities as needed. Apps and digital to-do lists are easy to access on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. If you prefer paper lists, find a portable system that fits in your pocket or purse.


To-do lists are helpful tools that can keep you working towards your goals. You can be successful with any type of list as long as you follow our foundational tips. Maintain one list for all your to-dos, use deadlines and time estimates, and keep your list with you at all times to get the most out of your system. Start making your list now, and check out the rest of our resources to stay organized from the inside out!


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