Tips & Tricks for Using To-Do Lists Effectively

Tips & Tricks for Using To-Do Lists Effectively

Tarik Guney's photo
Tarik Guney
·Apr 7, 2020·

6 min read

Taken from

This story was originally published as one of my LinkedIn articles: Tarik Guney posted on LinkedIn After becoming an engineering manager, my biggest challenge was the increased variety of my daily tasks that I have to…

After I shared the post above about the benefits of using to-do lists, I have received follow-up questions about some of the tips and tricks that I use to simplify my life with To-Do applications.

First of all, you need to understand that using to-do applications must make your life easier, not harder. If you feel overwhelmed and frustrated while using to-do apps, you are either not using it right, not using the right application, or not using it for the right work.

I have listed some of the helpful tips I have learned by myself during my to-do journey below. However, if you think that keeping up with the following list is too much work, don’t worry. It will only take 30 minutes or less of your time once you get used to it. Don’t let your unconfirmed and untested biases deceive you when you want to improve your life with some extra work. Let’s start.

Prioritize but with fewer top priorities

Make sure you are prioritizing your to-do tasks with priority labels and colors. But only have a few highest priority items on your list. The more top priority items you have, the quicker you will feel overwhelmed. I usually don’t mark tasks with top priority by default and don’t try to have more than 2 of them if I ever have them. Highest priority means I need to complete them before anything else, and seeing too many red-colored tasks (the highest priority) can stress me out. I add a task item first but order and or prioritize my tasks list later. But I do it often throughout the day so that I can adapt myself to the changing priorities of the day.

Don’t have too many tasks for today

Ensure that you divide your work by days, but don’t have too many items for today. When you add new to-dos, schedule them for tomorrow or later if the number of today’s tasks exceeds 5 or 6 — and even if you need to finish them today. As you complete tasks from today, pull the new tasks into today from future dates.

If you absolutely have to complete your new task today, then see which other items you can move to tomorrow’s list before adding the new task to your today list. If you are familiar with Scrum or similar SDLC methodologies, you can think of this step as introducing scope creep for which you push some of the sprint stories back to your backlog to make room.

Tuck away the least priority items

If your to-do application supports projects or sections, move the tasks that have no visible priority and can be done days later to under these categories. And, visit them from time to time if you have nothing better to do.

You don’t need to complete all of your tasks

Life changes so do your task priorities. Your to-do list will help you see that some of the tasks you added don’t need to be completed… at all, and that is okay. Don’t try to finish all of them. Simply ask yourself whether the next task is still valid.

Be mindful

Find the areas and usage patterns that overwhelm you. Be mindful of your to-do use and see how you can improve it for yourself.

It is simple!

The idea behind these simple tips is easy: Capture everything you plan to do as tasks, but keep your today’s to-do list as small as possible not to get overwhelmed. Most of the opponents of To-Do apps I have seen hate the to-do idea because they have big lists of tasks that they cannot even look at without being stressed out. Remember, using to-do is a mindful act, and cannot be left to the control of your subconscious mind.

Until next time!

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