How To

How to: Make effective To Do lists

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I love my to do lists. They help me stay organized an stay on top of the massive amount of work I have to do for school and in my personal life. Having things written down allows me to “be where my feet are” instead of being scatterbrained and overwhelmed. There are a few ways to make to do lists and it really comes down to what you’re hoping to get out of a to do list.

The basics 

-Be specific!

Putting something like “clean kitchen” on a to do list doesn’t actually tell you anything. Cleaning the kitchen is a huge task and it’s hard to break down in chunks later. Instead, write “do dishes”, “take out the trash”, etc. This way, you can see exactly what task needs to be done.

-Break it down!

I always have tons of laundry to do and I’m very specific about how it gets done. I can easily put “Laundry” on a to do list but in my mind, it doesn’t give me direct enough tasks and an order to how to get the laundry done. Instead, write “wash darks” or “wash sheets and towels”. If you don’t need to get that specific, then don’t! Laundry is a perfectly fine task to have on your list if you don’t want it done in any specific order.

-Write it down!

Patrick is pro at not writing things down and saying he has a to do list. Hint: he actually doesn’t. Take a piece of paper and pen and write the list down. Don’t put it in your phone! It’s so easy to get distracted on your phone or forget a list is even there. Instead, just make a hand written list.

My favorite: a running to do list 

I started a running to do list about a month ago. Sit down and write every single task you have to do. As you think of things, add them to the list. As you finish things, mark them off. It’s very rare your list will ever get completely done but it lets you write something down and forget about it for the time being. Each week, I go through and transfer my list to a new piece of paper so I don’t have a book of lists, just one single sheet with everything I need to do on it. I like having the day I wrote things down on the list so I can prioritize what has been sitting on my list for days instead of just since yesterday.

The daily to do list 

A daily to do list is great if you don’t like to make too many plans or feel overwhelmed about the week. My father-in-law uses this system and has been very successful with it. Each morning, sit down and make a list of all the tasks that are non-negotiable for the day. Ex: Reading for classes tomorrow, walking to dog. Then add to the list everything you would like to get accomplished that day. Ex: Fixing the bathroom scale. Work on things that are on the non-negotiable list first then move on to the things you’d like to get done list.

The agenda list 

An agenda list is perfect for people who like to have whole days planned out but can’t or don’t want to plan more than a day in advance. For an agenda to do list, start with the things you have to do. Ex: classes, meetings. Space them out on a piece of paper so you can assign tasks to do between them if you have time. Then, go through and figure out what needs to get done during the day. Assign those tasks between the things you have to do. I used an agenda list when I had multiple classes a day so I could see what I needed to get accomplished and how my time needed to be used. Because an agenda list is difficult to visualize, here’s an example:

Small Business Planning

Peanut butter collection

MPRE lecture

Wills and Trusts


Business planning reading

Walk the dogs

Wills reading


With to do lists, it’s all about what works best for you and what you want to accomplish. An effective to do list is going to depend on your learning style, self discipline, and personal preference. Play around with these styles or come up with your own. What tips do you have for making to do lists?


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