Skip to main content

To-Do List Formula, A Stress-Free Guide To Creating To-Do Lists That Work!



"The To-Do List Formula" begins by addressing the common challenges people face when it comes to managing their tasks and to-do lists. Zahariades emphasizes the importance of having a reliable system in place to handle daily responsibilities effectively. The book then introduces a step-by-step formula that guides readers through the process of creating and utilizing efficient to-do lists.

The author emphasizes the significance of clarity in task management. He encourages readers to start by clarifying their goals and identifying their most important priorities. By aligning tasks with overarching objectives, individuals can ensure that their efforts are purposeful and meaningful.

Zahariades introduces various strategies for organizing and categorizing tasks to optimize productivity. He introduces concepts such as time blocking, prioritization techniques, and using deadlines effectively. The book also explores methods for dealing with overwhelming tasks and breaking them down into manageable steps.

To address the issue of procrastination, the author provides practical tips to help readers overcome this common challenge. He highlights the importance of setting realistic expectations, building momentum through small wins, and creating a supportive environment for focused work.

The book also delves into the psychological aspects of task management. It discusses the impact of mindset on productivity and offers strategies to cultivate a positive and proactive mindset. Zahariades explores the role of motivation, discipline, and accountability in achieving long-term success with to-do lists.

Key Takeaways

Start with clarity: Clearly define your goals and identify your priorities to ensure that your to-do list aligns with your objectives. Organize and categorize: Use strategies like time blocking and prioritization techniques to categorize tasks effectively and optimize your productivity. Break down overwhelming tasks: Tackle large tasks by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Overcome procrastination: Set realistic expectations, create a supportive environment, and build momentum through small wins to combat procrastination. Cultivate a positive mindset: Your mindset plays a crucial role in productivity. Cultivate a proactive and positive mindset to enhance your ability to accomplish tasks. Stay motivated and disciplined: Maintain motivation by celebrating progress and establishing accountability measures to stay on track.

My Highlights

First, it will give you control over your workday. You’ll know what you need to work on and what can be put on the back burner. A good task management system will make your workday less chaotic.

A solid to-do list will reveal the day’s top priorities based on their importance and urgency. It will show you instantly where you should devote your time and attention.

your task list will show you what you need to work on based on each item’s urgency.

Your task list removes the emotion so you can make good decisions that maximize your productivity.

being productive isn’t about completing a long list of tasks. It’s not about staying busy. It’s about focusing on high-value activities that help you to accomplish your goals.

41% of to-do items are never completed.

50% of completed to-do items are done within a day.

18% of completed to-do items are done within an hour.

10% of completed to-do items are done within a minute.

more than 40% of tasks are never finished. The implication is that the items are carried over to the following day, postponed indefinitely, or dropped altogether. These are not the signs of an effective task management system.

people tend to pick tasks that appear easy to do. The problem with this approach is that it fails to address task priority.

According to a survey by LinkedIn, nearly 90% of professionals admit to not getting through their task lists on a regular basis.

By writing them down, you’ll collect them in one place and gain a bird’s-eye view of your biggest priorities.

a solid to-do list will focus your attention on the right work and prevent you from getting sidelined by less-critical items.

Your task list isn’t a tool for getting everything done. Rather, it’s a tool that will ensure you get the right things done.

A to-do list without deadlines is a wish list. Nothing more. Without deadlines, we lean toward inaction.

They help us to prioritize tasks and projects based on the amount of time we have to complete them.

Without deadlines, there’s little impetus to act. Without an impetus, nothing gets done. This is the reason so many to-do lists spiral out of control, growing longer and longer by the day as tasks go unfinished.

Deadlines are the enemy of procrastination. They motivate us to take action and finish tasks.

Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Lists that are too long eventually reach a point at which they become unmanageable.

finish each day realizing that you failed to complete the day’s list of tasks. This outcome, experienced over and over, can be devastating to your motivation.

failing to complete your to-do items day after day, you train your mind to accept that outcome.

Many people do a brain dump of every task they need or want to get done. They record everything on a single list. The problem is, they neglect to categorize these tasks and put them on separate lists according to context, priority, and urgency.

Items that will take three minutes to complete are listed next to items that will take three weeks. High-priority tasks are listed next to low-priority tasks that can be put on the back burner indefinitely.

The more options we have, the less capable we are to decide between them and the more anxiety we experience as a result.

A second consequence of having too much variability in your task lists is that you take longer to get things done.

too much variability in your to-do lists increases your stress levels.

Items are written down without any indication about the time needed to complete them, their priority, and the roles they play in achieving specific goals.

to-do lists that offer no task-level context are ineffective. In fact, they do more harm than good.

When you create a list of tasks without context, you end up with options that are difficult to choose from.

Our goals spur us to take action. We’re less inclined to procrastinate when we’re able to predict the positive result of completing a specific task.

Tally your points after you answer the questions and find out how skilled you truly are at creating effective to-do lists!

Do you understand the primary role to-do lists serve in a task management system?

Do you assign deadlines - a specific date rather than “by the end of the month” - to each to-do item?

Do you limit the number of items on your to-do lists to 10? (If so, give yourself three points.) Do you limit the number to seven? (If so, give yourself five points.)

Do you create your to-do lists with minimal variability? Focus on the time needed to complete each task as well as each task’s priority.

Do your to-do lists limit your options concerning what you should spend your time on?

Do you include context for each to-do item so you’ll know whether it’s a high-value or low-value task, and the time commitment involved?

Do you define your tasks narrowly and with specificity so you can quickly identify when they’ve been completed?

Do you associate each task with a specific goal?

scored between 32 and 40 points, consider yourself a to-do list ninja.

scored between 19 and 31, you’re doing reasonably well, but could stand to improve select areas of your task management strategy.

scored 18 or fewer points, you need to rethink your approach to how you create your to-do lists.

Studies show that chronic stress and fear can literally change how the brain functions. Our ability to process thoughts and make rational decisions suffers as stress hormones, such as cortisol, accumulate. Neuroscientists have discovered that, over time, this state can damage the brain, hampering our decision-making ability.

pinpoint the reasons you’re experiencing these feelings. For example, do you feel guilty and depressed because you’ve missed important deadlines at your job?

Once you’ve identified whatever is triggering your negativity, you can take steps to change your circumstances and relieve the pressure.

your emotional state plays a significant role in how successfully you work from your lists.

your to-do list is there to help you organize tasks according to their importance and priority, and identify where to best spend your limited time. You won’t be able to do that effectively if you’re struggling with persistent negativity.

There’s nothing elegant about this strategy. It is essentially a brain dump. You write down every task you can think of onto a single list.

First, your list will grow too long.

Second, you’ll have too many options.

Third, your list will have too much variability. Three-minute tasks will be listed next to three-hour tasks.

It’s worth pointing out that doing a brain dump is an important step toward creating an effective to-do list.

You might feel productive as you complete tasks and cross them off your list. But in reality, you’ll be inclined to choose easy, low-priority tasks that require minimal time to complete and leave the high-value items unaddressed.

An individual may have a vague sense regarding the latest date by which a particular task must be completed, but he or she neglects to assign a formal due date to it.

Deadlines are important because they prompt us to take action.

Assuming our deadlines are realistic and take into account the comparative priorities of our to-do items, they increase our productivity. We not only get more things done, but we get more of the right things done.

The tasks’ starting dates will prompt you to work on them early enough to meet their respective deadlines.

Your master list is a rolling repository of every task you think of. It’s where you record every item, regardless of its priority, deadline, the time required to complete it, and the project with which it’s associated.

Each evening, you would review your master list. You’d look for tasks due in the near future or those that need to be addressed in order to move other tasks forward. Once you identify these to-do items, you’d choose several and transfer them to the following day’s daily list, assuming your schedule allows adequate time to address them.

It limits the number of tasks on your daily to-do list. There are five. No more. No less.

The big ones can be finished in under two hours while the small ones should take less than 30 minutes. (Tasks that take longer than two hours to complete can usually be broken down into smaller tasks.)

This feature of the “3+2” strategy makes it compatible with popular time management strategies like the Pomodoro Technique and timeboxing.

minimizes task switching.

fewer tasks to focus on, you’ll be less inclined to switch back and forth between them.

This reduces switching costs, the loss in productivity that results from jumping between unrelated tasks.

you choose one big task, three medium-sized tasks, and five small tasks to complete during the day.

Not only does it allow you to choose more items to get done each day (nine vs. five), but it also presents three categories rather than just two.

you’re left with multiple lists, one per project.

Task-level context is inherent in this system as your lists are organized according to project.

gives you a bird’s-eye view of your multiple projects in progress.

MIT is an acronym. It stands for “most important task.” It’s the highest-priority item on your to-do list. It’s the one thing you must complete during the course of a given day.

you select three high-priority tasks to focus on during your day. Whatever else happens, you must get these three items done.

Grab a cork board and a stack of Post-It notes. Make three columns on your board. Title the left column “To Do.” Title the middle column “Doing.” Title the right column “Done.”

It also makes it easy to prioritize items according to their respective due dates.

allows you to track the progress of individual tasks.

you can use different colored Post-It notes to represent varying levels of priority.

Tasks are assigned to the quadrants according to their respective priorities. Those placed in the first quadrant should be addressed immediately. Those in the second quadrant are less dire, but should be scheduled to ensure they’re addressed at some point in the near future. Tasks in the third quadrant can be delegated to others while tasks in the fourth quadrant can be abandoned.

it forces you to add context to each task.

Part of GTD involves creating a “next actions” list and a “someday/maybe” list.

GTD advises performing a weekly review.

focuses more on processing the ideas in your head than actually getting them done.

not enough attention is given to how each item captured on the “brain dump” list relates to your goals.

it’s easy to get overwhelmed while using GTD.

Getting Things Done is popular as a strategy for organizing tasks and creating to-do lists. There’s no doubt about that. But the more you research it, the more you’ll find that many people have tried and abandoned it.

use a “current task” list to decide how to allocate your time and attention each day.

Second, use a “future task” list to keep track of all the items that will need your attention at some point.

Many people work from a single, massive to-do list that grows by the day as new items are added to it. This practice can be discouraging because there’s no end in sight.

Its limited scope - remember, it only carries items that are to be completed that day - reduces stress and removes the sense of overwhelm.

“next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.”

You’ll find that completing each day’s to-do list will motivate and inspire you.

We take action to effect specific outcomes. Otherwise, why would we spend time and effort doing things that prevent us from pursuing activities we find more enjoyable

The simplest way to get through your daily to-do list is to assign a “why” to each item found on it.

You’ll find that when you associate tasks with specific outcomes, you’ll feel more compelled to get them done.

This is the reason many to-do “items” remain unfinished at the end of the day. They’re technically projects. They’re too large in scope and can seem overwhelming, which causes us to procrastinate.

Breaking projects down into smaller tasks makes them seem more doable. It also allows you to focus your limited time and attention on tasks according to their priority and value.

Make sure your to-do lists are limited to actionable tasks, not projects. If an item requires more than one action, it is a project that can - and should - be broken down.

The date doesn’t have to be written in stone. It can change as the priority and urgency of the task to which it’s attached changes.

First, make sure each deadline is realistic.

Second, come up with a reason for each due date.

Third, give yourself less time than you think you need.

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

One of the most common problems with to-do lists is that they’re too long. Those that start with just a few tasks invariably grow to include dozens.

I strongly recommend limiting the number of items on your daily to-do list to seven. This is a manageable number. Assuming no single task requires hours to complete, it’s possible to get through your entire list by the end of the day.

My “limit-to-seven” suggestion refers solely to tasks that require at least 15 minutes to complete.

recognize that tiny tasks like “sort your mail” should not be among the seven items on your daily to-do list.

Task-level context is an important part of any to-do list system. It defines how long items should take to complete. It reminds you of the reasons to get them done. It encourages you to focus on tasks that have the highest priorities given your goals.

Project Type

recommend creating a separate list for each project, each type of task, and each

Task management is made simpler when irrelevant items are removed, or crossed off, your list.

What types of tasks are candidates for removal? Look for these four items: Wishes Unclear tasks Trivial tasks Resolutions

Trivial tasks can be eliminated without repercussions.

Remove all resolutions from your master to-do list.

In order to calculate a task’s estimated completion time, you must know what is required to do the task. This includes tools, information, and input from others.

Review your master list and assign a time estimate to each item. Whether the item will take 15 minutes or 3 hours, write down the estimate next to it.

Resist the temptation to guess. We tend to be overly optimistic regarding our ability to get things done. We underestimate the time we need. Be aware of this tendency.

If you’re unfamiliar with the task, talk to someone who has worked on it in the past.

we also tend to give ourselves too much time to get things done.

This leniency is dangerous because it impairs our productivity. Recall Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Verbs have that power. Put them in front of your to-do items and you’ll be more inclined to get the items done.

The verb triggers something in the brain, prompting it to focus on completing the item.

Start a load of laundry Buy a cake for Sandra’s birthday

The right verbs encourage execution. They encourage you to take action. The wrong ones do the opposite. They encourage procrastination. Verbs like explore, plan, and touch base lack specificity. As a result, they’re less effective than verbs like research, draft, and call.

David Allen’s GTD advocates the creation of a separate “waiting for” list. This list would include every task for which you’re waiting for someone to act.

write a short note next to each to-do item for which you’re waiting for someone’s input. Detail the type of input you need, its format (email, phone call, report, spreadsheet, etc.), and the date you expect it to be delivered.

The purpose of a batch list is to organize all of your tiny tasks in one place.

Tiny tasks don’t belong on your daily to-do list.

Nor should tiny tasks remain on your master list.

place them on a separate batch list. When you have extra time, choose a few to work on.

They’ll tempt you to multitask, which will introduce task switching costs.

Batch these tiny tasks together. Set aside 30 to 45 minutes to work on them.

batch together tasks that are related by context.

Working on related to-do items minimizes switching costs.

When you add context to the tasks on your master list, you can quickly identify the ones you should work on.

suppose it’s mid-afternoon and your energy levels are low. You’d do well to focus on mindless work (e.g. data entry, decluttering your desk, etc.) rather than analytical or creative work (activity-based context).

Conduct Weekly Reviews

Gather all of your to-do lists. This includes your master list and context-based lists. Do a brain dump of all the tasks and projects floating around your head. Add them to your master list. Break down new projects into individual tasks. Separate new tasks according to context (project, type, andemail inbox. Send responses if they’re necessary. If an email requires you to take action, but isn’t urgent, make a note of it on your master to-do list and archive the message. Also, archive emails that don’t warrant a response or action, but may be needed later. Delete the rest. Review your master list and context-based lists. Purge tasks that are no longer necessary or important. Note the tasks that are both important and urgent. Mark them as candidates for your daily to-do list. Note the tasks for which you’re waiting on input from others. Write down the person’s name and the date you expect to receive his or her input. The date will tell you when to follow up if you don’t receive it. Review your current deadlines for high-value tasks. Make adjustments if necessary. Assign deadlines to new tasks you’ve added to your master list and context-based lists. Review your calendar for the coming week. Create your daily to-do list based on your availability.

Vague goal: retire early. Specific goal: retire by your 60th birthday with $2 million in liquid investments and a $5,000 monthly income.

They noted two remarkable findings. First, the 13% who had goals earned more than the 84% who had no goals. Second, the 3% who wrote down their goals earned 10 times as much as the 97% who did not write them down.

The third step is to review them monthly. Set aside 30 minutes at the end of each month to track your progress and reevaluate

When you focus on methodologies to the point that they become the priority, you risk forfeiting these goals.

your to-do list system is there to aid you, not control you.

Build And Follow A System That Works For YOU

Be Consistent

skipping a day or two can have a snowball effect.

“Jerry Seinfeld” strategy.

First, learn the 10 steps to creating an effective to-do list system.

Second, memorize the eight tips for ensuring your system runs smoothly over the long run.

Third, buy a wall calendar that displays the entire year on a single sheet.

After you’ve successfully done so, cross the day off with the red pen.