To-do lists that actually help you get stuff done!

by Tasso Tsirpouchtsidis

To-do list - how to create

To-do list? Why? Would you say about yourself that you are someone who prioritizes well, but then gets frustrated that you don’t get everything done that you planned to?

To-do list: to do or not to do.

You probably have tried to schedule your tasks and blocked time in the calendar to get them done, but then find at the end of the day that most of them just shifted to the next day, and then the next, and the next…

You are not alone!

Many people struggle with the things that they have or want to accomplish, be it in their private life or their work life. With too much on their plates, lots of distractions, and the inability to focus, people start hating their to-do list(s). While searching the internet for solutions, they often come across the recommendation to ditch the practice of keeping a to-do list overall.

Should I ditch my to-do list?

Don’t give up on your to-do list, yet…it most probably just sucks. You can TRANSFORM your productivity, and get some peace of mind with only a few tweaks to your to-do list.

The problem is this: Your to-do list does not give you the clarity that it was created to do!

That mess (whether in your head or on paper) creates the sense of “busy” that you experience and leads you to think and say, “I don’t have time.”

That’s worse than you think!

Thinking and saying “I don’t have time” actually blocks your mind from finding it (I mean time) because your mind accepts your thoughts and words as the absolute truth.

YOU NEED CLARITY! Because it will allow you to see your game from a higher perspective. Once you see what’s there, it is not so difficult to prioritize. Getting to that level of clarity often times lifts you up automatically.

The good news is that you are not that far off track as you might think!

You are only two insights away from productivity heaven. Here is what you are probably doing wrong (based on what most people struggle with):

  1. Your to-do list is most likely a “should/could do” list. That’s not good since it keeps your mind cluttered.
  2. Your to-do list does not have “next steps” on it, but rather ideas, thoughts, or projects. That’s very bad. It’s the top reason for procrastination because it remains unclear what you have to do next.

How to fix your to-do list in four simple steps.

STEP 1 – Cut down the to-do list from should/could do to must do.

Clean up the mess. Ask yourself two simple questions to help you in this process.

  1. Does this need to be done at all? Not everything on your current to-do list has to be done. Trust me.
  2. Do I need to do this? This is not to dump your work on somebody else’s desk. We often accept things for the wrong reasons. Maybe there is someone else whose job it is to do things just like that who might be better than you in doing it.
STEP 2 – Cluster projects on your to-do list.

Now you should have stuff on your to-do list that really should be on your plate.

Take the shortened list and cluster it into projects. Distinguish between the ones you lead (your projects) and the ones you contribute to (maybe as an expert in the organization or in your community). Ask yourself: “What are the big items I am working on?”

Why is a to-do list important?

FIRST, you will have clarity on what you are working on! That is super important. It will allow you to not just feel and say that you are busy. Instead, you can articulate and communicate properly what you are working on and what your contribution is.

SECOND, for you to feel a sense of accomplishment, you need to move things forward. You need to see progress. Checking off individual unrelated tasks of a list won’t give you that critical feeling of advancing in something. But understanding how the different projects move on, will!

STEP 3 – Define next steps and become a productivity ninja.

In some cases, unfortunately, more often than not you will find that the tasks you have under a specific project are not tasks, but actually projects themselves nested under the bigger project. Project managers would call those workstreams.

An example: If you are a marketer and responsible for developing a business plan, you might have on your list something like “conduct a market research”. BUT, that’s not a task.

I can guarantee you that if you leave this there as such, it will get pushed forward day after day (aka PROCRASTINATION), until your stress level peaks because you reach the deadline or things don’t move as you wanted them to.

Better would be something like “call procurement to ask for three agencies to invite for pitch”. THIS NOW is a next step for conducting a market research. It is small, it is doable, and it can be the first step in getting the market research up and running.

STEP 4 – Create the actual to-do list and move forward.

This now brings it all together. This is what all successful people do. When I implemented that in my life, it changed everything, and things started to shift for me. In fact, this habit is the single most important habit you can have in getting things done.

Every night, take 5 – 10 minutes to look at the overall picture of your projects and DECIDE on the top 3 – 5 things (depending on other commitments in your day) that you will do the next day…. NO MATTER WHAT!

Not “If I have time, I will do the following.” Select truly those things that you NEED to get done to move your work forward. Those that will be in the core of your focus that day. Therefore, don’t plan for more than you can swallow. “Few, but done” is the best feeling in the world. It will compound over time.

SUMMARY of your to-do list.

In order to create the wins that you need to motivate and encourage you to move forward, you need to upgrade your to-do list to help you with that.

  1. Cut it down to the must-dos.
  2. Cluster the tasks in projects to get a feeling on what it is you are working on.
  3. Be specific about next steps to avoid procrastination.

Create a to-do list for the next day. Don’t work with a list of 50 items in front of you. One can easily say that in any endeavor, mindset accounts for 80% of the success, whereas all the rest falls under the remaining 20%.


About the trainer and coach: Anastasios “Tasso” Tsirpouchtsidis

Tasso’s mission is to help people show up at their best – at work and in life. To raise their ambitions, overcome self-limiting beliefs, and take meaningful action. He strongly believes that the way to success is rooted in an empowering mindset and self-image as well as strong habits. Learn more about Tasso here.

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