“True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I don’t know about you, but I really need my to-do lists. My days are so busy and my brain gets so scattery and idea-filled that without my lists, I’d probably forget everything! to do list makeover

To do lists help you track your activities and manage your time. Then again, what happens when your lists grow out of control because they’re too long or there are too many of them?

Maybe the solution is using a different kind of list. Take a look at your options for designing an effective to do list, along with suggestions for using any productivity tool more effectively.

List Hacking: Designing a To-Do List that Works for YOU

1. Keep it short! Many experts recommend keeping your list as short as 3 to 5 items. Promptly cross off any tasks you complete. Move projects you’re unlikely to get to off to a separate wish list.

2. Categorize it! Consider categories. If you prefer longer lists, categories are one way to stay organized. Separate business and personal items. Group similar activities like shopping, reading, or making phone calls.

3. Restructure it! Juggle timelines. Maybe your projects are interrelated with structured stages and strict deadlines. Calendar functions and color-coding could help you strategize.

4. Add important details! When you need more than a simple list, create a full log. Build in supplementary information like daily summaries, phone numbers, and websites you visit frequently.

5. Use time-blocking! Block out your time. Do you tend to waste small blocks of time? Planning your day in 30-minute increments could help you spot when you’ll have 10 minutes free for filing or checking messages.

6. Pick your poison! Choose paper or digital. You may already know that GTD stands for Get Things Done, and there are a growing number of GTD apps to choose from. On the other hand, paper journals are still popular too. What matters is using them consistently.

These are three of my favorite list apps.

1. Idea Growr app.  This is my newest find, but I’m adding it as number one because it has been such a huge help in my scatter-brained life already. So far, I’m using it mostly for the planning and idea stages on upcoming books and projects. I also have just discovered that I can very easily export my ideas into bothEvernote and Trello, both of which make me very happy. Speaking of which, let’s move to the next tool.

2. Evernote. For blog posts and notes, thoughts, etc. Also for keeping track of bits and pieces of ideas as well as clipping articles and valuable info I want to refer back to later. Stuff like blog posts and reference lists. In fact, I’ve been writing this post on my phone in bits and pieces throughout the day. Where? You guessed it – in Evernote. I can do all the formatting and editing and literally just paste the post and go if I want, or I can just put my rough thoughts down and come back to it later for polishing.

3. Trello. So far, I’m finding Trello good for daily scheduling, repeating processes that I need to remember (publishing steps and a new revolving launch concept I’m working on, for example). Also awesome for for strategy and to do lists, which I find especially satisfying in checklist form. Also good for the GTD system and for keeping track of my someday list (a list of project and ideas I want to do but don’t have time for right now). It’s also a good way to add ideas from Idea Growr app once they are fleshed out so that you can take them to the next step.


List Hacks: Use Any To-Do List Effectively

1. Prioritize it! A successful list lets you see your major responsibilities at a glance and approach them systematically. Arrange your list so your top concerns stand out.

2. What matters? Distinguish between urgency and importance. Prioritizing raises some tricky questions. Picking up your dry cleaning before the shop closes in 10 minutes is urgent. Spending time with your friends is less time sensitive, but contributes more to your wellbeing. Pay attention to essentials that may otherwise be bumped.

3. Automate it! Automate routine tasks. Eliminate chores that robots and computers can do for you. For example, electronic banking frees up your time and gives you peace of mind knowing that your bills have been paid on time.

4. Give yourself a little breathing room! Build in leeway. Studies show that most adults underestimate the time it takes to complete many everyday tasks. Give yourself an extra 10 minutes between appointments. Assume that a new dinner recipe may take you 20 minutes to pull together even if the cookbook claims you can do it in 10.

5. Give yourself a minute! Take a break. Put adequate rest and play on your list each day. It’s time well spent when it keeps you in top shape and prevents burnout.

6. BOO! Expect surprises. However comprehensive your list is, you’re sometimes going to run into circumstances that you couldn’t predict. Be prepared to shuffle your other obligations to the next week if your car breaks down or you win a trip to a tropical resort.

7. Progress reports are important too! Evaluate your progress. Hold onto your lists so you can review them periodically. Repeat the practices that simplify your life and fix the patterns that are causing you delays.

Keep your personal and professional life in order. Whether you prefer writing in a notebook with colored markers or downloading the latest productivity app to multiple devices, there’s a to do list that will help you to stay on top of your game.

Looking for more ways to make your life better? Check out these 127 Simply Powerful Life Hacks Anyone Can Use, right here. 

What are your best tips for making use of To-Do lists? Share them with the QB community in the comments below.