Time Management and Goal Setting

Home > Time Management > Best Practices > Effective To-Do List

Using a More Effective To-Do List Best Practice

A traditional to-do list cannot effectively capture all the details you need to remember, it can only capture the general tasks.

The reason is that when you add more and more items to the list, it becomes really hard to manage.

Here is what a typical to-do list might look like:
* Call John regarding client presentation figures
* Prepare outline for client presentation
* Research for project proposal
* Call Terry regarding Steve's retirement party
* Reserve room and drinks for Steve's party
* Add support for searching database based on ordered parts
* Call Perry regarding features for next release
* Pick-up anniversary card on way home
* Pick-up dry cleaning
* Take Rover to vet
... tons more items follow

To really capture everything that you need to do, your list could easily grow into hundreds of items and become a real mess!

Because a traditional To-Do list becomes unmanageable with so many items, you invariably omit some of the details and just write high-level reminders instead, leaving it up to your memory to keep track of all the little details.

Pretty soon, your head is so full of little details that you start forgetting important things, find it difficult to focus or concentrate, or feel completely overwhelmed!

If you could capture and keep track of all these details using a more effective list, your feelings of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm would fade, you would be able to focus and concentrate better on the task at hand, and your productivity would soar as you make steady progress on each task.

This article shows you how to build this kind of list, which can be particularly helpful for executives, entrepreneurs and small business owners who have to deal with multiple simultaneous projects. That's why it's a valuable executive coaching tool.

Creating a More Effective To-Do List

Instead of lumping everything together into one big list, an effective To-Do list separates the concepts of projects and tasks and uses different ways to track them.

A project represents a high level outcome or result, whether it involves a single or multiple steps.

A task represents the actions or steps needed to complete a project.

For example, you need to give a presentation to an important group of clients. This is the project representing your overall goal.

To prepare your presentation, you may need to do some research, create an outline, develop props and other creative materials, write the presentation details, and prepare some handouts. These are your tasks.

Projects could be things you need to do right now, things that you have to do sometime in the future, or even things that you may want to do later but haven't decided yet.

Everything in your original to-do list should be either a project or a task of a project.

Small Vs. Large Projects

You may notice that some projects are small (pick-up dry cleaning) and require little or no planning, while others are large and complex, and may require significant planning.

Simple items like "Pick-up dry cleaning" and "Take Rover to vet" are treated as projects because they don't belong to a higher level outcome. They are the outcome.

Keeping them in your master project list allows you see them along with all your other outcomes and avoid losing track of them.

You could create a "Miscellaneous" project to capture these simple one-step projects, but I personally prefer to keep them in the master project list as long as it remains uncluttered.

If you start tracking too many of these small items, however, it may be better to store them as tasks under a "Miscellaneous" project instead.

The Achieve Planner software is an effective project/task tracking tool that I wrote and personally use every day. It provides hierarchical (multi-level) outlines separated by projects and tasks. You can try Achieve Planner free for 30 days.

Achieve Planner's Projects Tab

Achieve Planner software separates projects/tasks using hierarchical outlines

Related Articles:

Improve your time management skills fast and take your productivity to the next level: Check out the Be More Productive training program.

Investing in yourself through time management training could be one of the best investments you make because time is one of your most precious and valuable resources.

If you'd like additional help, time management coaching and life coaching are both a great resource to implement these ideas and improve your time management skills. You can use personal coaching or group coaching depending on your needs.

In a corporate setting, executive coaching is also very valuable to help you be more productive and perform at your best.


Effexis Software makes a terrific time management software system that is based on these principles.

If you've been looking for a tool to help you get organized, increase your productivity, and work more effectively, give it a try free for 30-days.ctively, give it a try free for 30-days.