The To-Do List Game Plan

Make today the day you finish everything.

It's a great feeling, isn't it? Checking something off your to-do list. Mission accomplished. Done. But it's also easy to let that list grow to herculean proportions or have a whole day (or week) go by without checking anything off your growing list of tasks. How does this tool for getting things done become a stack of ticking time bombs, flaunting your procrastination? It all comes down to your planning and how you write it. Here are the seven tips for mastering your to-do list like a boss.



Create Your List
the Night Before

Starting your day without a clear plan means nonessential tasks can quickly derail your day. That's why it's smart to create your daily to-do list the night before, so you know exactly what you've got on your plate. It also allows you to prioritize the tasks. And bonus: once you've got all that down on paper (or Evernote), your mind is clear and you'll fall asleep without worrying about the next day.



Eat the
Frog First

This popular productivity phrase is based on the Mark Twain quote: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." You may be tempted to ease into your day by starting off with simpler or less demanding tasks, but that will just make tackling the more difficult jobs later even more challenging. Finish your big task first thing and the rest of the list will seem a whole lot simpler.



Embrace Isolation

Silence your phone. Put on your headphones. Set up site blockers if you can't keep yourself from checking addictive sites like ESPN or Facebook. Anything to ensure that interruptions won't break your focus. A few hours of complete concentration can accomplish what would take several days of mindless multitasking.



Avoid Roadblocks

Make sure the to-dos you're writing down are actionable. Break down larger chores into smaller tasks that can be easily accomplished that day. For example, "Find a new dentist" can seem a bit overwhelming. But "Ask Dan in accounting what dentist he goes to" can certainly be done in a matter of minutes.



Use the
Two-Minute Rule

You want to avoid being sidetracked, but no man is an island. If a task or request comes your way during the day and it'd take less than two minutes to accomplish, do it right then. (i.e. Answering an email or returning a quick phone call.) These are small things that can easily be finished, as opposed to being added to the bottom of your already full to-do list.



Give Yourself
a Break

If you work too hard for too long, your body will find ways to give itself a break in the form of procrastination. Pushing too hard only strains your brain. Schedule a few breaks into your to-do list. But don't break your flow by scheduling breaks at a specific time. Instead, match them up with certain tasks. Once those tasks are checked off your list, you'll be free to enjoy yourself.




At the end of the day, go over your list—this could be before you leave work or as you're getting ready for bed. Take a moment to appreciate everything you just accomplished and check to make sure there aren't any looming deadlines or time-sensitive tasks you've missed. It's also the ideal time to make tomorrow's to-do list and identify the day's "frog."

Keep Track of Long Term Tasks

Keep Track of Long Term Tasks

For those chores that can't be accomplished in a day, create a separate "project list" where you can keep track of them, away from your daily to-do list.