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9 Reasons why your to-do list isn’t working for you – and how to fix it without any stress!

how to write a to do list

To-do lists are fantastic at keeping us organised, unloading our minds and helping us remember important tasks – but sometimes you find that your to-do list isn’t working for you.

Let’s have a look at why your to-do list isn’t working for you and how you can create a to-do list that will keep you on track!

The benefits of a to-do list

Even if your to-do list doesn’t seem to work for you right now, you absolutely should stick with it and I’ll tell you how in a moment.

Before we look at the best way to make your to-do list work for you, it’s important to know the benefits of the list to help you want to correct your list taking methods.

why your to-do list isn't working

To-do lists are fantastic because they:

  • Declutter your mind by allowing you to unload all of those busy thoughts and write them down
  • Allow you to focus on tasks at hand, without the lingering reminder of what needs to be done later on in the day
  • Assist with planning pretty much everything we do – whether its a blog post like this one, a party or a list of house chores, to-do lists are the foundations of most of our plans
  • They help you get organised so that you can do all of the planning and scheduling without skipping important tasks; and
  • They make it harder for you to forget those important tasks, and less likely to avoid the boring ones you’ve been putting off but know you need to do.
create your own planner pages - printables to profits

Why your to-do list isn’t working

With all of these benefits, why is your to-do list not working for you?

  • You are getting overwhelmed by the enormous amount of items on your to-do list
  • It’s difficult working out which task to do first
  • You keep adding to your list completing none of the previous tasks; and
  • Your to-do list is one massive list that hasn’t been put into categories.

How to make your to-do list work for you

There are many ways to make your to-do list work for you, not against you.

The list should never feel like an impossible mountain covered in cryptic clues. It should be coherent, organised and achievable, even if it’s difficult.

1. It’s a wish list

Do you ever write a to-do list and it looks more like a wish list or a set of goals that you want to achieve?
If your to-do list says things like “lose 20 kilograms” or “go to Paris”, then you don’t have a to-do list – you have a wishes and goals list!

It’s fantastic to have these goals in your life, but the to-do list is not the right place to be recording them!

Solution: Create a separate list just for your goals, and another one for your wishes and/or bucket list.

2. You don’t understand project vs task vs event

To-do lists are not designed for goals and events.
Knowing the difference between a task, goal and event will save you from adding unnecessary items to your to-do list.

A goal is our target, our focus for the endgame.

A task is actionable steps towards completing a job or achieving a goal.

An event is a block of time that is scheduled for a specific date.

Here is an example:
If you want to lose weight by joining a gym and eating healthy, this is how we would define each of these things.

Losing weight is the goal, your ultimate endgame result.

Attending a 3 pm appointment at the gym is an event that has been scheduled – this should go on your calendar as a reminder

Going shopping to get healthy ingredients for dinner is an actionable task towards your goals.

Of these three things, the only one that would go on your to-do list is a healthy meal shop.

Knowing the difference between these three is an enormous step in cutting out the overwhelm of a giant to-do list.

Solution: Define what is a goal, what is an event and what is a task.
Put all of your events on your calendar, your goals go on a separate list and only the tasks go on your to-do list!

3. You aren’t prioritising your tasks

When we write our to-do lists, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that everything is super important and needs to be done as soon as possible.

This just isn’t true!

Everything we do has a level of urgency and importance, sometimes it is an urgent matter that needs attending straight away – such as replacing your flat tire so you can get to work.
Other things are less important – like organising your pantry.

Everything needs to be done, but not knowing how to prioritise your to do list is a huge reason why your to-do list isn’t working for you!

Solution: When writing out your to-do list, assign it a rank of importance. You could even have a seperate mini-list of things that need to be done straight away.
This is a great way to prevent feeling overwhelmed and lost within your to-do list.

4. You aren’t consulting your schedule/calendar

Sunday night you wrote out your to-do list for Monday and it looks amazing.
Go to the gym, mop the kitchen, get a start on your work project.

Then Monday comes around and you wake up and suddenly remember that you have an appointment you can’t miss and your child’s school has a student-free day.

At the end of the day you realise that nothing on your to-do list has been achieved. You didn’t go to the gym, floors need to be done tomorrow and you didn’t even scratch the surface of your work project.

And now you’re left feeling like you’ve somehow failed and your to-do list for tomorrow is twice the size.

This is a day we have all experience in one way or another, but it can be completely avoided!

Solution: Before you create your to-do list, make sure you consult your calendar for any appointments, events or anything that will prevent you from doing your to-do list!

to-do list isn't working

5. No idea on the time frame

One of the biggest reasons our to-do list isn’t working for us, is because we don’t seem to have enough time to complete the tasks!

This comes down to two things:
1. You have filled your to-do list to the brim (we will get to this point in a minute); and
2. There wasn’t enough time planned to do the tasks on your list.

If you aren’t allocating time for each task – either expressed on your to-do list or calculated in your mind – you will never be able to fit everything in, because your list was unrealistic to begin with.

Solution: Having a rough idea of how long each task is going to take you will help when it comes to actually plan your day around your to-do list.
If you aren’t sure, add an extra 30-60 minutes to the task so you aren’t rushing and stretching yourself thin.

6. You keep re-writing the same list

I have been so guilty of this in the past! Writing out to-do lists in 14 different ways just to make myself feel busy.

If you have one to-do list written on your phone, in your diary and then on 4 pieces of paper – I hate to say it but you are just trying to fill in time while procrastinating your to-dos!

Solution: Write down your list in your ideal location – whether it be a note on the fridge, your planner or in a planning app on your phone.

Once you have written that list – don’t touch it unless it’s to reasonably modify it or to cross off your tasks!

If you feel the need to re-write it, then ask yourself what is on that list that you can actually do right now instead.
Re-writing feels productive, but I promise you it isn’t.

7. You don’t know your why / Using your list just to feel busy

Don’t add things just to cross them off. Some people add items such as “shower” to their to-do list, unless this is something you need help remembering, don’t add it.

Adding items just to cross them off may seem for your mood in the short term, but long term adding irrelevant tasks can bring back the overwhelm.

Solution: Don’t add things to your list “just because” or to make yourself feel busy.
Only add things that you need to do, that you won’t do out of habit and that you need to be reminded of.

8. Everything is on one list

Having one giant to-do list can be a huge killer for your productivity and motivation.
When you look at your list and it’s got 30 tasks on it, a lot of times you will feel like it’s too much to tackle and you don’t know where to start.

Solution: Create separate categories that allow you to get a proper view of everything that needs to be done. This is also a great method when allocating a priority to your tasks!

The categories I generally use are Home, Me, Fun and Work/Blog.

If you want to learn more about how I turn my to-do list into a routine that gets everything done, make sure you check out this post!

9. You aren’t being specific enough

When you aren’t specific on what needs to be done, it can be easy to simply avoid the task all together because you have no idea what you were meant to be doing!

Be as brief but specific as possible.
You don’t want to write out “I have to go to the supermarket to purchase a new backpack for Noah so that he can go to school”, but you also don’t want to simply write “Shop” either because you may forget what you were meant to be shopping for.

Solution: Keep it simple but specific, so when you am writing your list out, you know exactly what needs to go where which then allows you to choose the right time to work on each task
So instead of writing “Shop” or “I have to go to the supermarket to purcahse a new backpack”, try “Shop – backpack” or “Buy Noah’s bag” – simple, but informative.

How to make your to-do list work for you

Choose the Right App (or Use Paper)

Decide which method of note-taking and list-making works best for you.
Do you prefer to write notes on your phone or use a memo app?
Or is it easier and faster for you to write out on a pen and paper?

For me, the answer is almost always pen and paper. That is why I make printable planners, to help others organise their lives as well as my own.

However in times when I prefer to use technology over paper, I have searched long and hard for the perfect apps.

If you’re looking for amazing list and productivity apps, I recommend checking out Trello for simple lists, or Click-up for a more detailed app. (both are free!)

Review your methods

Always be open to learning new tricks, shorthand or apps.
If your to-do list is still not working for you then try a new method.

Thought apps were your go-to but it wasn’t working? Try the pen-to-paper method.
Finding writing by hand is taking too long? Then find a simple app to try.

There is no right or wrong way to how you tackle your to-do list, and sometimes it takes time to find your own groove.

Write your to-do list to fit your routine

Writing a to-do list means nothing if you don’t actually complete the tasks – or if they don’t fit in with your daily routine.

A great method for to-do list creation is to write one that fits seemlessly into your routine.

If you want to know the best way to do this, you can read my post “How to get everything done” and learn my favourite planning method that allows me to get everything done, every day!

Are you ready to make a new list?

Now that you know how to fix your to-do list, it’s up to you to create the perfect list that will blend perfectly with your lifestyle.

Don’t forget to join my mailing list to get more advice on how to plan your perfect life! Click here to become a member.

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why your to do list is overwhelming - how to write a better to do list
9 reasons why your to do list isn't working for you

Jess is an aspiring blogger, born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. After relocating to remote Christmas Island, Australia, to be with her fiance, she became a mother for the first time. As a long-time sufferer of anxiety, Jess knew that as a mother she couldn't keep letting it take control of her life. Using the power of planning, Jess has learned how to use her passion for organisation to minimise anxiety and maximise her self-worth. Now she runs her blog, Mindful Galaxy, to bring all of these lessons straight to you so that you can live your best life.

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