3 To-Do List Mistakes You're Making Now (and How To Fix Them)

Updated: Jan 26

Whether it’s a piece a paper, a Trello board, an Asana project, or notes app, everyone has some sort of to-do list. When was the last time you actually checked off everything on your list? I think the last time I got the end of my list was probably about the fifth grade.

I used to feel like each day was a race, trying to get through as many items as possible and then ending the day feeling unsatisfied with my progress as I stared at the incomplete items. That was before I transformed my to-do list. I realized (over time) that I was making three big mistakes:

I put ideas or big projects on my to-do list. This was a problem because those items weren’t immediately actionable and I had no idea how long they would take. For example, in the past I might write “build website.” Then I wouldn’t make progress on that item because it seemed too large and I wasn’t sure where to start.

I kept all of my to-do items on one loooong list. I would look at that list many (many!) times during the day and get overwhelmed, spend time trying to decide what to work on next, and get distracted by large number of items. I spent a lot of time just trying to digest the list.

I “sprinkled” small items throughout the day. Short emails or phone calls would be done between other more substantial tasks. This seemed efficient at the time, but I found that my brain had to switch gears so much that it became difficult to focus on my most important tasks.

So, here’s what I did to fix it:

Move big ideas and projects to a separate list. Prioritize them and, once one rises to top priority, break it down into smaller, actionable tasks so I know exactly what to do to get started.

Create a daily to-do list. Every morning I look at my long list of tasks (what I call my backlog) and choose concrete tasks to focus on that day. I estimate how long each task will take to ensure I’m choosing the right amount of work for the day. Then, I don’t look at my backlog again until the end of the day. This saves me so much time because I know exactly what to work on next and I’m not distracted by non-priority items.

Batch tasks. I group tasks that take less than ten minutes or so. All of those quick emails and phone calls are done at the same time. This leaves me the rest of the day to focus on my most important tasks.

Since implementing this process, I’ve helped others do the same. Download the Ultimate 21-Day Blueprint: Get More Done, Work Less to see play by play how Heather transforms her to-do list, checks off everything on her daily list, avoids her usual afternoon cookie break that she typically uses to distract herself when she can’t decide what to do next, and then goes out with friends for happy hour feeling calm, satisfied, and accomplished. Cheers!

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