How to Make a To-Do List

To do list written out with purple pen in small notebook surrounded with organization materials

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

With so many tasks to keep track of every day, to-do lists are essential. Life becomes a little less overwhelming when all of the chores, events, and responsibilities are written down and arranged. But there is an art to list management. It takes time and attention to find a method of list-making that works for you and helps you stay organized. Here is a simple step-by-step guide to help you create a clear and organized to-do list.

Select a Method That Works for You

Pen and paper? Task-planning app? Printable planner? There are countless ways to organize your to-dos, but not every method will work for you. Pick a list-making method that fits your life and preferences. You may find that a smartphone or computer helps you divide and conquer your personal and professional responsibilities. Or, perhaps you prefer the simplicity of a notebook or pretty planner. Find a solution that is practical for your lifestyle and enjoyable to use.

Small notepad next to calendar book and sticky notes for to do list

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

List and Sort

Once you've selected your preferred method of list-taking, it's time to start building your to-do list—or rather, your to-do lists. Start by building a single, comprehensive list. Make sure you're specific. Instead of adding "complete house chores," write out each individual task. "Vacuum the living room." "Load the dishwasher." Jot down any and every to-do you can think of, then move onto categorizing. For example, you can build a "House Chores" list with the aforementioned tasks. Add an "Errands" list with "Pick up Mother's Day cards" and "Get an oil change." Build a grocery list with "Cherry tomatoes" and "1 pound of chicken thighs."

Highlighter coloring important tasks in to do list

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Prioritize Your Tasks

After you've written down your tasks and divided them into categories, it's time to prioritize. Some of your to-dos can wait a week or even a month; others will be more urgent or perhaps even consistent. As you arrange, make sure you are realistic about the number of tasks you can complete in a day. Depending on the time commitment involved, aim for no more than five daily tasks and select the order you'd like to complete those tasks to make sure you don't become overwhelmed. You may also benefit from scheduling everything in its own time slot. Plot out your chores in a planner app or a blank notebook. If you're not able to complete all your tasks, adjust your list and expectations for the following day(s).

Maintain and Update Your List Often

Now that you've settled on a list-taking method you like and spent some time splitting your to-dos into categories, keep the habit. To stay diligent and make sure you're keeping up with your to-dos, establish a routine of checking your lists on a regular basis. Ideally, you'll check at least once a day. Perhaps you're most productive in the mornings. If so, make sure you check your lists before you start your day. Or, maybe you'll need more consistent check-ins, such as once in the morning, then again in the evening. Just as you did with selecting a method of list-taking, choose a routine that works for you and will help you stay on top of your responsibilities.

Weekly calendar written out with scheduled appointments for to do list

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Keep Your List Close

No matter what method of list-taking you chose, how many lists you've created, and how often you choose to check those lists, keep your list close. For many of us, there is no shortage of to-dos, and they pop into our heads at the most inconvenient times and locations. With this in mind, make sure your master list is always accessible, so you can jot down to-dos immediately and monitor your productivity throughout the day.

Smart phone set with to do list reminder next to small notepad with grocery list

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Adjust as You Go

As you update, you may discover that your chosen method of list-taking requires some tweaking. You may even find that you need more than one method of list-keeping! Maybe you prefer a smartphone calendar app for appointments and a notebook for shopping lists. If you find that the method you've chosen doesn't work for every responsibility and activity in your life, cut yourself some slack and modify your method. Don't lock yourself into one form of list-taking. Be flexible and adjust for what really does work in your own life.