How to keep your to-do list short and still be insanely productive.



A to-do list forms the basis of every life skills, personal development, or productivity enhancing course.  Self improvement, self help, and time management advice always begins with a list. Blog posts, articles, audio and video life coaches all emphasize the importance of a to-do list. A list of goals, aims and objectives is considered a pre-requisite to organise your day and your life.

In the 21st century, a to-do list does not require paper and pencil. It can be made on a desktop or laptop computer. You can make it on the go on your tablet or smart phone. In this digital age, surprisingly, there are people who prefer to map their day on paper. Special printed notebooks and notepads, journals and planners, are even more popular today than they were before the advent of electronic devices. People (especially young people) love to fill them with monthly, weekly and daily lists of tasks. Some people love decorating these glorified to do lists with colour coded headings, stickers and other embellishments. A happy marriage of print and electronic media has resulted in printable planners and to do lists. You can find them from the innumerable choices available on the web and then print them out yourself.

All this planning and list making should make our lives far simpler shouldn’t it? It should in theory, but in practice the situation is quite the reverse.

Life coaches advise making a list the night before, or before the start of a workday. What they neglect to mention is that being faced with a long list of tasks first thing in the morning can be daunting. This can potentially leave you feeling overwhelmed and de-motivated, thereby defeating its own purpose.

Wise people have found a way around this: a short to do list. The good personal development experts recommend a list of no more than six items for each day: three big tasks and three small ones.

“With a list as short as six items, how am I going to reach my goals?” you may ask, “How am I going to become successful and popular with only a short list of tasks to do each day?”

Here are a few ideas that might help:


  1. DO IT NOW!

man making phone call for to do list

Instead of putting it on your list, some tasks can be handled the moment the need to do them arises. A button works loose as you are getting dressed in the morning. You could change your shirt, and put the ‘button less’ one back in your wardrobe. Later, you could write “Sew button” on your to do list. On the other hand, you could take an extra thirty seconds and sew the button on immediately avoiding the need for another item on your precious “to-do”.

A friend calls asking you to call someone or do something. Do it right away if you have the opportunity — to-do stays short, job gets done.

“If something takes less than two minutes to do, don’t write it down or add it to your to –do list— do it now.” (David Allen, Getting Things Done).



I got this tip from a lady I flew with once — when going to do something in one part of the house, say the kitchen, do something on your way back. Maybe you went to the kitchen to turn off the stove, bring the stack of laundry to the kids’ rooms on your way back.

You end up accomplishing two tasks in the time allotted for one, akin to the “Buy one, get one free concept” of marketing. Stuff gets done — to do list stays short.



to do list robot cartoon

For mundane things like household chores, bill payment, picking up laundry, car pool, etc. create routines. Do these mundane things consciously the same way until they become reflexes. If you have these things on autopilot you won’t need to put them on your to-do list.



to-do list three tasks on post it notes

Try not to crowd your poor “To-do”. Keep things down to a minimum of three essential things and three not so important things. This three plus three method is quite effective and also quite flexible: if you are short on time, just do the three essentials.



to do list resist temptation array of ccokie trays on shelves

Do not be tempted to add to or overburden your to-do list. If you keep adding items as you are crossing some off, you will just become the proverbial hamster on the wheel.

If you get through the list quickly, enjoy the bonus time. Do something for yourself, something that only you enjoy — some well- deserved “me time”.

Intelligent list making can keep you motivated and enhance productivity. It will also prevent you from ‘putting too much on your plate’ and “biting off more than you can chew.’

How do you organise your to-do list? Or if you don’t use a planner or list, how do you plan your schedule/ Do drop me a line in the comments section.


Don’t forget to:





All images courtesy Unsplash.


If you found this post useful you might also like:

5 Productivity Hacks You Already Know But Keep Forgetting

7 Easy Ways to Eat That Frog Now

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Decision Fatigue : A Modern Malady


33 thoughts on “How to keep your to-do list short and still be insanely productive.

  1. I struggle too.
    Hence this post.

    intelligent list making is very Important otherwise we can get swamped by goals,chores and responsibilities, thereby choking our motivation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think life hacks need practice. if you practise them enough they become second nature.
      Personally, I am still at the beginning of the practice phase.


  2. Every time i try to make a list. I forget half of the stuff i had thought about adding to that list. It is a chaos all the time 😕


  3. I have always organized things day ahead so they have become ingrained reflexes now and after marriage were very handy!! Especially when kids came along with job, household chores!
    Very goodt tips for people who find organizing things/ chores difficult !


  4. Being kind of old-fashioned, I still get a charge out of making a list with pen and paper and crossing things off throughout the day. My wife and I tend to create these long verbal lists of things to accomplish on my days off, but often never get around to doing any of them. As such, putting together a list of items to get to, and yes some a more important than others works for me. I get a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when I see a lot of pencil lines crossing tasks off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love crossing things off my to do list too so that it becomes a have done list instead
      This sort of gives me a sense of achievement.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Agree with those who say that to make a list is a good habit in itself but ticking off things you have done is very gratifying too


  5. You have hit the nail on the head.
    That is exactly what I meant in point no.1 “Do it now”.

    And thanks for stopping by.


  6. Another great post!! But in all honesty to-do lists have not worked well for me. The only time I make a list is 1) before a party so I remember to take food out of the oven/fridge and 2) packing for travel so I don’t forget to take my “cool” sunglasses. Other than that i find it too stressful. I figure if I forget i can still do the job the next day or it was not worth my time!


    1. Thanks for reading and commenting.
      If you can function without lists you must have a very good memory.


  7. Modern life makes our to-do lists longer, for in days gone by we didn’t have so many distractions, we went to work, came home watched one of three television channels and went out once or twice a week and perhaps have one holiday per year. Now we have constant distractions, like writing blogs for example. Talking of which I started to research a subject I was going to blog about some three hours ago and have yet to get back to it. I should have made a shorter list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree.
      We do tend to make our lists longer thereby overwhelming ourselves.
      And blogging though very enjoyable does take up a lot of time. Ever since I took up blogging I am reading fewer books.


      1. I haven’t gotten there yet but I hope to one day.
        I can realise how difficult it must be to squeeze in time though.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s