Better To-Do Lists: 3 Ideas That Will Make You Effective!

There is an uncountable number productivity systems in the world. All of them work and all of them don’t work. There is no, “one size fits all solution”. Most successful people use a combination of several solutions. They keep what works and throw away what doesn’t. I did the same and so should you. My current productivity system is combination of 3 powerful ideas everybody should know about.

Since January 2016 I improved my performance a lot by changing my planing process.

Before the change I used a small Post-its and wrote my tasks for the day on it. The system was simple but not as effective as hoped. Often times I felt demotivated or rushed. Sometimes I sticked to it and sometimes didn’t. On some days it gave me structure, on others it didn’t.

To improve my results, I read a lot about productivity and To-do lists. Most of the articles were the same old stuff repeated. But I also found some new ideas and combined them.

Idea Bulb
By: Ramunas GeciauskasCC BY 2.0

#1 Idea

First idea, a To-do list isn’t working with too many tasks. A too long To-do list is overwhelming.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson describe a solution in Rework:

“Long lists don’t get done

Start making smaller to-do lists too. Long lists collect dust. When’s the last time you finished a long list of things? You might have knocked off the first few, but chances are you eventually abandoned it (or blindly checked off items that weren’t really done properly).

Long lists are guilt trips. The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it. And at a certain point, you just stop looking at it because it makes you feel bad. Then you stress out and the whole thing turns into a big mess.

There’s a better way. Break that long list down into a bunch of smaller lists. For example, break a single list of a hundred items into ten lists of ten items. That means when you finish an item on a list, you’ve completed 10 percent of that list, instead of 1 percent.

. . .

Yes, you still have the same amount of stuff left to do. But now you can look at the small picture and find satisfaction, motivation, and progress.”

#2 Idea

Second idea, there are different types of schedules. Paul Graham explains the basic concept in a great article:

“ There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

. . .

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.

. . .

I evolved another trick for partitioning the day. I used to program from dinner till about 3 am every day, because at night no one could interrupt me. Then I’d sleep till about 11 am, and come in and work until dinner on what I called “business stuff.” I never thought of it in these terms, but in effect I had two workdays each day, one on the manager’s schedule and one on the maker’s.“

#3 Idea

Third idea, we should write the To-do list the night before. If we create the To-do list before we work on the tasks, we will have to overcome one’s weaker self. Energy preservation leads us to the path of the least resistance, aka doing nothing. Instead, we should write the To-do list the night before and commit to it.

To-do list book.
By: Justin See (coming back)CC BY 2.0

The 3 ideas combined

I write my To-do lists before I go to bed, for the next day. Otherwise, I feel a resistance to work on the tasks.

I divide my day in schedule types. Usually, I divide it in 3 parts: morning, afternoon, and evening. For every part I choose the type of work I will do. Example:

Morning → Maker

Afternoon → Manager

Evening → Manager

Every part is a small list.

I manage my tasks, for a week, with an Eisenhower matrix. A long To-Do list is also sufficient.

From the matrix I choose tasks and assign them to a part of the day. Small, easy tasks belong into parts with manager type. Big, hard tasks belong into parts with maker type.

Here is an example To-do list:

Morning → Maker

  • Work on ST article

Afternoon → Manager

  • Meet person x

  • Small task 1

  • Small task 1

  • Small task 1

  • Small task 1

Evening → Manager

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton


The new system increased my performance. I work as planed and I get things done. The first time in years I feel in control of my tasks. I even catch up with overdue tasks. I’m less and less afraid of my schedule and more and more confident that I will reach my goals in no time.

The combination of the 3 ideas is very powerful. I will keep the system and further improve it. If you are overwhelmed with your To-do list, you should try it as well.

Deo volente,

Gaius Wolf


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