A Simple Solution To Improve Your To-Do List

A Simple Solution To Improve Your To-Do List

March 08, 2024

Some people love to-do lists. Others loathe them. And almost everybody has a system. Newer strategies include creating a “to-don’t list” or “done list.” 

A done list notes tasks as you accomplish them during the workday, while a to-don’t list notes activities you least enjoy or that eat up the most time. A to-don’t list might include things like:

  • Don’t scroll social media during business hours.
  • Don’t sit more than 45 minutes at a time.
  • Don’t accept invites to unnecessary meetings.

While these strategies can be effective, the best solution might be taking a moment to reflect on the reasons behind each task on your to-do list. That’s the finding from a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers found students performed better when they wrote down why the course content would be helpful to them or someone they knew.

Inc. magazine recommends incorporating these findings into your daily tasks by creating a “why-to-do list.”

List your motivations next to your tasks

Documenting the reasons behind each assignment makes you more likely to get through your list. The research indicates this strategy could pay off in your personal and professional life.

Listing your reasons doesn’t need to be time-consuming. You could write a complete sentence or list some key points. But make it personal by noting the value to you, your colleagues, your friends or your family. This strategy will motivate you to follow through. Here are some examples of professional and personal to-do lists.

Professional to-do list

A traditional to-do list at work might look like:

  • Review 25 applications for the open job position.
  • Schedule one-on-ones with my team members.
  • Summarize notes from the department’s look-ahead meeting.

From there, list your reasons for performing each task.

  • Review 25 applications for the open job position. Reasons: Filling this position will improve our productivity. It will ease the workload for other team members. The right hire could improve employee morale, engagement and satisfaction.
  • Schedule one-on-ones with my team members. Reasons: These meetings are vital to team performance and individual growth. I can express appreciation for my team’s hard work and suggest improvements to those needing more direction.
  • Summarize notes from the department’s look-ahead meeting. Reasons: It will help set our department's quarterly direction and goals. Finishing the notes will help our leaders and teammates take their next steps.

Personal to-do list

Listing your reasons can have the same impact on your personal tasks. A traditional to-do list at home might look like:

  • Fix the slow drip in the bathroom faucet.
  • Enroll in a class at a local college.
  • Schedule a day off for self-care.

Listing your reasons can motivate you to address items you might otherwise delay.

  • Fix the slow drip in the bathroom faucet. Reasons: I can save money on my water bill. I’ll be helping the environment by not wasting water.
  • Enroll in a class at a local college. Reasons: I want to learn a new skill. It could further my professional growth. I’d like to meet new people with similar interests.
  • Schedule a day off for self-care. Reasons: It’s good for my physical and mental health. I will have more energy for work and personal interests.

The benefits of knowing your why

Whether you love or loathe to-do lists, this strategy can help. Instead of putting off the next task on your list, consider why it matters and how it will benefit you or someone you know.

To decrease procrastination and increase productivity, add “improve my to-do list” to your next to-do list. The reason? Accomplishing more of your tasks in less time can reduce stress and motivate you to tackle even bigger goals.