Are To-Do Lists Effective? How to Become More Efficient

Do you enjoy creating to-do lists so that you have something to check off?  Or do you find they are a waste of time and paper?  

To-do lists are highly effective when created and used properly.  They should be prepared at least one day prior to when the work will be completed and written in order of urgency.  Without a to-do list, it is easy to lose track of what needs to be done and may result in taking no action at all.

If you are currently struggling to get everything done that you are wanting to accomplish, keep reading below for more information on how to properly create and use to-do lists.

When Should To-Do Lists Be Prepared?

To-do lists can be prepared for your daily, weekly and monthly tasks.  Yearly goals should be written on a “brain dump” page, but creating to-do lists for a whole year is daunting and not likely to have successful results.  

Do not prepare a to-do list right before you want to accomplish your tasks.  You will need time to consider everything that you want to complete, leaving less likelihood that you will forget something important. 

A daily to-do list should be prepared the day before you want to complete those tasks. 

A weekly list works best if you create the list on Sunday evening. Write down everything that you want to accomplish that week.  You can then schedule out all of the tasks based on which day you want to complete those tasks and when you have the most time.  If you remember anything else throughout the week, you will still have time to add those tasks to the list.

Monthly lists should be created at the end of the prior month. They should only include preparing for events, such as a birthday party or anniversary party.  A weekly and daily list will suffice for most tasks.

from to-do to done

How to Create an Effective To-Do List

Set aside at least 15 minutes to prepare a daily to-do list, 30 minutes to create a weekly to-do list and if you want to prepare a list for the next month, set aside 45 minutes to put together a list. 

The goal is to think of every possible thing that you want to accomplish in that timeframe and write it down.  It’s easier to determine when you want to complete tasks when they are written down and you can then see how long you will need to complete everything.

When creating the to-do list, give an estimate of how long each task will take you.  Once you have the times figured out, you can then look at your schedule to see where you have blocks of time available to complete these tasks. 

You should be reviewing your schedule ahead of time so that you can appropriately plan out the tasks for your day/week.  As time goes on, you will have a better idea of how long each task actually took. Which will make it easier to schedule the next time.

Not completing some tasks does not mean that you have failed. You should however make sure that any urgent tasks were scheduled appropriately so you will definitely get those done. Anything else can be moved to the next day, week or month. 

How to Complete Everything on the To-Do List

Now that you have an idea how long each task takes, pull out your daily planner. Schedule each task into the time slots that you have available for the day.  By determining how much time you need for each task, you can schedule the appropriate amount of time. Making it much more likely that you will actually complete each of the tasks.

It is tempting to list out every possible thing you want to complete that day. However, without having a real plan based on the available time, you will just get overwhelmed and lose motivation to complete anything.

As you complete each task, go back to your planner and check off that you have completed that task.  If it is a never-ending task like cleaning, you will be cleaning those areas at least once every week.

So it is helpful to use a planner or a notepad that you can continually add to. Then you can easily look back and see when you last completed the task. 

If you get to the end of the day and you were unable to complete everything.  Re-evaluate how long it took you to complete each task. 

If it took longer than expected, write that down so that you know how long you need the next time.  Move anything that you didn’t get to that day to the next day. 

What Are the Advantages of To-Do Lists?

Some advantages of creating to-do lists are:

  • Everything is written down, so you can frequently view the list and add to it
  • They keep everything that needs to be done fresh in our minds and motivates us to continue  
  • You get the satisfaction of being able to check off what you have accomplished (both big and small tasks)
  • Having a plan for the day/week makes it more likely that we will move onto the next task instead of taking a break
  • They keep us accountable
blank to-do list

To-Do List Example

Let’s take a simple example of cleaning your home.  Simple in that it doesn’t take a lot of time to think of what needs to be done. But definitely time consuming to actually complete the tasks!

A to-do list for the day may look something like this:

Clean the bathroom (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

⧠ Vacuum main floor (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

⧠ Mop hard floor surfaces (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

⧠ Dust main floor (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

⧠ Clean out the fridge (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

⧠ White load of laundry (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

⧠ Dark load of laundry (time it took to complete: ___ mins)

Determining How Long Each Task Takes

Now that you have your list, you should determine how long each task takes and how much time you have to complete them.  If it’s a weekend, you may have most of the day.  During the week, you may only have an hour after work.  So plan according to how much time you have available.

You can guess that cleaning a bathroom may take 30 minutes, vacuuming 20 minutes, mopping 20 minutes, dusting 20 minutes, cleaning out the fridge 30 minutes, and then the laundry doesn’t take long to load and unload, but the folding may take up 20 minutes total. 

So you should schedule 2 hours 20 minutes total to complete these tasks.  However, when checking off the task, you should make a note of how long it actually took.

Also determine the quickest way to get through your list.  It would make sense with this example to get the laundry started first. Since the laundry can be running in the background while you are completing the other tasks. 

Dusting should always be done before vacuuming since the dust can fall onto the floor.  Cleaning out the fridge should also be done before vacuuming so that you can then vacuum up any food bits that fall out of the fridge. 

For the bathroom, it should be cleaned first, then vacuumed, and then mopped.  Always work from top and bottom.

In this example, it would make sense to finish with mopping and then folding the laundry.

Ineffective To-Do List

The to-do list below is considered a funny, yet ineffective to-do list.  Which leads to my next point of creating a list that is not specific enough. 

In order to get the most done, you need to be very specific about what tasks need to be done.  If your goal is to have a clean house…. writing “coffee” and “rest time” is not going to help you get the work done. 

You need actionable tasks that are specific and small enough that you will actually complete them.  

ineffective to-do list

Paper Format and Online/App Options

A simple notepad with lines will do just fine.  Just put a box next to each task so that when you complete that task, you can just check it off.  OR even easier, just write down the task and then cross it out when you are done.

A daily/weekly planner is also a great option.  It will often include a monthly calendar to schedule in more long term tasks as well.  Whatever paper format you choose should be in a notebook or binder format. This way you can easily flip back to see how long each task took and when you last completed each task.

There are also great online programs that you can use for keeping track of your to-do lists. Trello is a great option that is fairly easy to learn.

You can even use this with a group of people. So your family could all have access to the to-do lists (if they are wanting to help out). and Todoist are also great options.

honey to-do list


To-do lists are a simple idea that can be prepared quickly and lead to more motivation. Therefore more likelihood that everything will get done.  You will never forget what you wanted to accomplish, because it will always be written down for you to review and schedule into your day. 

I hope this post has helped you to create better to-do lists and understand the effectiveness of them!