Like compound interest, to-do lists are easy to overlook at first, but their effect when consistently applied is undeniable.  Spending 5-10 minutes a day making a to-do list can increase your overall productivity by 20% or more.[1]  It also helps you clear your mind, focus on what’s important, and cut back on stress.  Whether you’re looking at a light day or a hectic one, making a to-do list in the morning (or even at the end of the day) will give you more control over your little corner of the universe.   

Of course, to-do lists don’t count unless they are written down. If you have a habit of writing things on sticky notes and placing them on your desk or computer (like many of us) go ahead and re-write them on a single page.  If typing works better for you, use your computer.  There are even applications for your smartphone or PDA that can help with this.  Personally, I’ve noticed that seeing something in my own handwriting helps me to remember it better.  The important thing is to find the method that is most effective for you and put it into action.

If your to-dos are mostly larger projects, it might make more sense to make your to-do list weekly rather than daily.  It may still be worthwhile to take a couple minutes to review your list daily and note anything that’s changed.  Whether you make your to-do list weekly or daily, be sure to immediately add to your list whenever new tasks arise.

The next step – and a very important one – is prioritizing the jobs on your list.  Break them down into three categories:  priority one is for things you absolutely must get done today.  Priority two are the “important but not urgent” items.  Priority three are the tasks you can work on if you get all of the first two categories done.  They don’t have to be done right away but they are “on the back burner.”  Use a different colored utensil (or font) and mark each task with an “A” for first priority, “B” for second priority, and “C” for third. 

Now, take a moment to scan back through your list and take a deep breath.  It may be long, but now you can feel secure that you’re on track and won’t skip over anything important.  Don’t you feel a bit less stressed and perhaps a tiny bit more like a superhero once you’ve organized and prioritized your tasks?  Now go, refill that coffee mug and take charge of your day!

[1] To Do List Tips,, , accessed 13 Dec 2011.