Why and how I use my to-do list as my ultimate productivity tool

Here, I’m going to say it outright, out of all the productivity tools out there, my ultimate productivity tool is the to-do list. I wouldn’t have spent the time to write almost 2000 words to tell you why if it wasn’t my all time favorite tool

Our need to grow as people

As we progress in life and grow as individuals, we have the capacity and the desire to take on more responsibilities. 

Bigger things are within our reach – financial wise and knowledge wise.

We get to experience more interesting aspects of life, explore projects we previously weren’t capable of, and deliver more impact both in our personal and professional lives. 

All of which also equates to more tasks to complete and demanding more efficient use of our time

As we progress in life and grow as individuals, we have the capacity and desire to take on more responsibilities. This equates to more tasks to complete and more demanding use of our time Click To Tweet

Some of them are menial tasks that you just need to do to make sure our lives function smoothly

  • Picking up a list of groceries
  • Reminding yourself to bring something to your office
  • Paying your bills on time

Some are crucial for us to progress in life

  • Signing that work agreement within a stipulated due date
  • That conference call with that superior that could propel your career to another level
  • Timely periodical communication with a few key clients to maintain your business relationship
  • Or even completing elements of an important work assignment in time

Some are important for personal satisfaction

  • Helping organise a fundraiser about a cause you are passionate about
  • Writing that book you’ve always wanted to
  • Building that website to showcase your best work

Some are crucial so that you come back to a happy spouse

  • Remembering to make the venue booking for a child’s birthday celebration
  • Doing your part of the house chores

I’m no exception to this

In my quest to grow I’m constantly tinkering with stuff and trying to do new projects. Inevitably, there are a lot of things I need to remember, 

Even at the point of this writing I’ve got a few projects going on

  1. Drafting a marketing strategy blueprint for the expansion of this blog
  2. Major changes and restructuring of my travel agency after being badly impacted by the pandemic
  3. Laying the groundwork on an upcoming E-commerce project
  4. Some minor household improvement projects
  5. Finish reading 12 books before end of the year (I’m at 8 books now so i might be revising my goals mid of the year, Woohoo)

The day I discovered the to-do list as ultimate productivity tool

It was during college when I realized I could complete my tasks more efficiently if I started to do one simple thing

Listing them down

Then, I also discovered I had an odd sense of satisfaction when I cross an item off my list. The sort of satisfaction you get when you get a whole number while filling up your petrol tank (I hope I didn’t open up a can of worms)

Since then, I’ve been an avid user to-do lists and never looked back

I can’t emphasize it more – using a to-do list is one of the BEST habits I’ve picked up throughout my journey of productivity

Using a to-do list is one of the BEST habits I’ve picked up throughout my journey of productivity Click To Tweet

Why are to-do lists so important to me?

Getting sh*t done

Obviously, using a to-do list lets me get my shit done, quickly, and kicking-ass at the same time

To-do lists helps me kick ass

To stay organised

Knowing what I need to do today helps me plan my time better. If I have an important task that will consume the bulk of my day, I’ll know better not to take on that additional appointment and schedule additional tasks for later

If I have a task that requires me to do some prep work such as reading up on some articles or sourcing some materials, I can plan for that earlier and jump directly into the task on hand instead of fumbling around when the time comes

On top of that, staying organised gives me a better overview of my workload. 

For example, if my tasks are finished too quickly, it could mean that I have the extra capacity to take on other tasks, or even start that side project I’ve been wanting to so badly

On the other hand, if my tasks seem impossible to finish, it could mean that:

  • I am taking on too much and am overloaded
  • I probably need to re-look at some tasks and start delegating
  • Or it could even mean that there are some skill sets that I need to brush up in order to be able to complete these tasks in a reasonable time

The great thing about knowing this is that I’m better off either way, provided I take action

It helps me remember better

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been very good at remembering things. Car keys, birthdays, things to do for my mum – I’ve been there and not done that. So using a to-do list helps me remember all the stuffs that I need to remember

It’s even scientifically proven – Neuropsychologists have identified something called the ‘Generation effect’ – where it is easier for an individual to recall and remember information that is self generated (in our case, writing down the to-do list) compared to information that is merely read

In my case, writing down tasks on my to-do list (self generated information) helps me recall and remember better

It gives me more clarity over my tasks

Having an overview of the tasks I need to complete – both long term and short term, enables me to prioritize my actions

I can allocate which task to complete first by asking myself questions such as

  • Is this task urgent and important or urgent but not important?
  • Does this help achieve my goal?
  • Is this an action or motion task?

Motion Tasks – Tasks that keep you busy but don't generate results | Action Tasks – Tasks that bring in results Click To Tweet

It saves me mental energy

Once I write something down, I don’t have to waste my mental energy remembering it. Plus, it helps me sleep better at night not having to dwell over the possibility of certain tasks slipping my mind

We all have limited mental energy daily, that’s why people like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates choose to wear the same outfit day-in day-out – so that they can preserve their mental capacity for things that are more important 

And lastly, like what I mentioned earlier, there’s the satisfaction of ticking off an item from your to-do list

That face I make when I tick something off my to-do list

My criteria of a good to-do list tool

I have only 2 criteria when it comes to picking a tool to jot down my to-do list

1 – Ease of use and flexibility

It must be easy for me to record down and move around tasks in my to-do lists

I tend to jot down random tasks at random times when it pops up in my mind so jotting down my to-dos needs to be REALLY easy. I don’t like having to open 10 things and sifting through 50 categories to jot down my tasks

I also tend to set aside time every morning to sort through my to-do list, so having the flexibility to move tasks around easily in my to-do list is crucial

2 – Accessibility

I like my to-do list to be accessible – meaning regardless whether I’m on my desktop at home, laptop in my office, on the phone out of the office, or talking to someone, I want to able to jot down anything that pops up in the quickest possible manner

The only 2 tools I use

Throughout my years of using to-do lists, I’ve tried many tools to list down and organise my tasks. From simpler ones such as Google Tasks and Google Keep to more advanced ones such as Wunderlist, Trello, Asana and Evernote, I’ve used them all. 

But I’ve only ever stuck to two tools

Tool 1: A good old physical notebook

Nothing beats the satisfaction of using a pen or pencil to scribble stuff onto my notebook, and crossing them away after completion. That’s why I’ve been using notebooks since I started using to-do lists 

Flexibility of arranging my tasks? No problem, numbering the tasks and drawing arrows linking them to projects does the trick

Sometimes old school is indeed better

Tool 2: Todoist

I’ve been using Todoist religiously for almost 5 years now.

Todoist is by far the best to-do list app that ticks all my checkboxes. It’s not too complicated to use, but powerful enough to fulfill all my needs. Best of all, even the free version is way better than a lot of existing apps out there. They also have a premium version if you want to level up your to-do list game

And well, I like it so much I dedicated a section in this post for Todoist. If you like, you can check them out here and get two months premium free

Read on to see how I make use of a combination of this app and my notebook

The different methods I use my to-do lists

There are many methods to use to-do lists to boost productivity, but these are the 5 ways that I found works best for me

Weekly to do list

‘Upcoming’ view in Todoist app

I list down all tasks that I anticipate I need to do within the next week, usually during Sunday (but you can do this on whatever day that floats your boat too). Todoist gives me an ‘upcoming’ view of all 7 days of the week and because of that, I mainly use Todoist to store my weekly to do list

Daily to-do list

I list down all items that I need to do, including the ones in my weekly to-do list, usually before I start work. Depending on where I am and what I am doing for the day, I use a combination of my notebook and Todoist to do this

Categorical to-do lists

I list down items to complete in various categories of my life

The 5 categories that have been consistent in my life are Family, Personal Growth, Business/Work, Health, Finance. 

Because items in these categories tend to be more impactful long term and less urgent, I list these items down during goal setting and reflections and primarily use my notebook to do this

I do however have a Long term 20/80 tasks category for my business that I keep track in Todoist

Project to-do lists

I list to-do items down by projects, currently, the 4 projects I have are 1 Day 1 Thought blog expansion, E-commerce project, Travel agency restructuring and pivoting, and some household projects

Because I can list down tasks in specific projects and assign deadlines to them that show up in the ‘Upcoming’ view of Todoist, I mostly use Todoist to do this

Random Idea Vault

I have the habit of writing down random ideas at random times. Depending on where I am, I use Todoist and my notebook to do this

5 ways to use to-do lists: Weekly, Daily, Categorical, Project and Idea Vault Click To Tweet

If you’re nodding furiously in agreement, it’s high time you go set up a to-do list in Todoist now and start kicking ass!

Something you can try out in the future

Something I’ve always been interested in is a to-do list based on the Eisenhower Matrix

Basically, tasks are listed down into 4 quadrants categorized by Critical / Non-critical tasks and Do now / Do later tasks

Eisenhower Matrix

The point of the Eisenhower Matrix is to

  • Identify high priorty and tasks that give the biggest impact when completed
  • Set aside time for long term tasks that have big impact but doesn’t seem critical now
  • Delegate tasks that are not critical but need to do now
  • Delete tasks that are not critical and not urgent

The way my to-do list is structured right now does not make sense for me to use the Eisenhower Matrix. But if you decide to start using one, this could be a cool way to start; and I’ll be more than happy to hear your progress if you’re interested in sharing

I hope you’re convinced by now that a simple to-do list can be a powerful productivity tool. If you want to give your productivity a boost, remember to check out Todoist!

Do you have a favorite productivity tool? Share it with everyone in the comments below!

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Featured image by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

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