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How to Create A To-Do List That Will Actually Help You Get Things Done

How to Create A To-Do List That Will Actually Help You Get Things Done


Guest post by: Amy Trager, Certified Professional Organizer

To-do lists can be daunting. But I think we can all agree there’s a small joy in scratching something off that list. Lists can help us complete larger projects by breaking them down, and help us manage our time and figure out priorities. How can that not be a good thing?

When creating the ultimate to-do list, the first thing is having a place to put it all. It doesn’t really matter if it’s on your phone in an app or on a legal tablet on your desk. What matters is that it’s all in one spot. Get rid of all the sticky notes and scraps of paper. Get rid of all the texts to self and reminders on the calendar. Gather it all in one place. If this is a list you’re hoping to share with others (maybe so they can help scratch things off the list, too), make sure it’s a format that everyone is comfortable using and to which they have access.

What goes on the list? Everything.

The second thing is knowing what exactly belongs on that list. Don’t hold back – dump everything onto your list, no matter how big or mundane. Anything still left to tackle from those sticky notes and scraps should be rewritten to the master list and tossed out. For household projects, walk around the house, room by room, closet by closet, and mark down every little thing you see and think of that begs to be completed. Don’t just rush through either; take a couple minutes and make sure everything is really getting a look. That box in the corner – what’s in there? Those frames stacked behind the couch – aren’t they supposed to be hung on the wall? Mark it down. Whether it’s something you plan to do or not, if it needs to get done, it goes on the list. 

From here, you can start to curate your list – think about  which items are attainable or “doable” now vs. later on. Maybe re-landscaping the entire yard isn’t in the budget this year, but a smaller  spot resodding or planting project might be. Even if it’s a big task, it can be broken down into smaller sequential projects as needed.

 So, instead of listing your task as “Re-landscape backyard”, try to break it down like this:

Backyard Re-Landscaping:

  •  Re-sod lawn

  • Trim back bushes and replace dead ones

  • Professionally trim trees

  • Create cement or brick walkway

  • Plant flowers/pots

  • Buying and assembling new patio furniture

Making your list manageable

Your  list probably still looks pretty overwhelming at this point. That’s ok. You captured everything, and that’s the goal at this point.  Here are two useful ways to break this master to-do list into manageable parts. It can be divided up by category or by priority.

Read through your list. Maybe your line items can be categorized by interior design projects, organizing tasks, and handywork. Or, maybe it makes more sense to group by priority. Items can be urgent, important, both or neither. Some tasks or projects may be relegated to the “someday” list, but it’s ok, the idea is to capture everything and then narrow down to what’s attainable.


Time to prioritize

Categorically, list groups in whatever order you choose. For priorities, list items in this order:

  • Urgent and important (there’s a deadline and it’s crucial to complete)

  • Urgent, but not important (there’s a deadline, but it’s not crucial it’s completed)

  • Important, but not urgent (there’s no deadline, but it’s crucial to complete)

  • Not important and not urgent (it would be nice to get this done)

Color coding can also come in handy here. Group items by color of ink or highlighter to see how much is in each group. This can be helpful in paper format or digital. Urgent/important items are red and wishful thinking is blue. Or, household repairs are purple and purchases are green.

Getting help to get tasks done

The last part is figuring out how to get it all done. Think about what can be delegated, and ask for help – remember the goal is to get it completed and you should be rewarding yourself for crossing it off!  Decide if some projects would go more smoothly with a skilled expert onsite. For many of the home or handy projects that may be on your list, remember you can always contact the great Concierge team at Fixer, either online or by text at 312.216.5999. Fixer can accurately estimate the time and cost for your entire list, and send a skilled team member to knock them out in a quick visit.

There will likely be some items you’ve just got to power through on your own. Schedule these into your calendar as you would any other appointment and commit to completing them, being mindful of how much energy and time you realistically can give to the project.

Now, get ready to scratch off things as completed! It’s the best feeling in the world.

Amy Trager_Headshot.jpg

About Amy Trager

Amy Trager is a Certified Professional Organizer® based in Chicago. Certified in 2007, she is also a NAPO member and past president of the Chicago chapter. Since 2006, she has been guiding individuals through the stress of their stuff.


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