How To Organize A To Do List: Four Mistakes To Avoid

Are you a fan of to-do lists? If so, do you strictly follow them and check off every single item? To-do lists are the most common method for people to get more done, but it’s not always used as intended. People may know how to organize a to do list; however, some of them may not realize they’re making some small mistakes following them.

How to organize a to do list

It’s easy for anybody to write to-do lists, but they may not follow up on some of their tasks. Some people will write several things they need to get done today. Others will list a few things and focus on accomplishing those tasks.

It may vary, and they’ll get a lot done or very little work completed. In this post, I will discuss four common mistakes people make when writing out to-do lists.

How to organize a to do list:

Mistake # 1: Not being specific

How To Organize A To Do List

One of the biggest mistakes people make is writing unclear, vague tasks. Writing unclear tasks doesn’t mean much because you likely won’t recall the details later in the day.

You could spend up to 10 minutes or more, working out the details of a particular task. It’s simple to write out tasks that aren’t specific. But if that’s the case, functions that mean little likely won’t lead to taking meaningful action.

Solution: Write tasks that force you to take action

When you write out your to-do lists, take the time to be as specific as possible. If you write out a detailed task, it’ll be easier for you to action shortly afterward.

Here are some examples of lists I wrote for myself. The first list consists of vague tasks, while the second one outlines more actionable steps.

How To Organize A To Do List- 1How To Organize A To Do List- 2

I can explain further examples,  but it’s a good starting point. Also, omitting words such as “plan,” “develop,” or “implement” are helpful because they’re meant for more significant tasks. When they are projects or challenging tasks, it’s best to put them in a separate projects list for later.

Mistake # 2: Listing “someday” tasks

How To Organize A To Do List- 3

Tasks that will take longer to complete on daily to-do lists can keep you from accomplishing smaller ones. It’s essential to list functions that can be performed in a single day, rather than days or weeks to finish.

Paula Rizzo, the author of Listful Thinking, suggests that if you need to work on more significant projects, break them down in smaller chunks.

For instance, writing a book will probably take more than a day to finish. For your daily to-do lists, your task can be to draft 2-5 pages daily until you finally finish the book.

Solution: Put “someday” tasks in a project list

As mentioned earlier, “someday” tasks should be categorized into a project list. This list should comprise tasks you want to fulfill in the long run. Differentiating between short-term and long-term jobs will help you create useful to-do lists.

A good example, Rizzo mentions, is “Climb Mount Everest and pick up milk.” The two tasks are different, whereas the Mount Everest one will take more effort to accomplish.

Mistake # 3: Not using a calendar with to-do lists


One of the best approaches to using to-do lists is linking it with a calendar. Some people don’t use a timeline that includes the actions from their list.

Though it’s unnecessary, it can help keep people accountable for follow-up on their activities. It’s also an excellent way to stay on track. Some people planned to work on a specific task during a certain time frame, but then they don’t follow-up on it.

Solution: Use time-blocking on your calendar

One of the best methods to getting more done is using time blocking. As I wrote about in my last post, time blocking divides your day into time chunks.

So you block out a time frame (i.e., 9 am-1 pm- deep work- writing) to focus on a specific task. If you include the actions in those time blocks, you’re more likely to follow-up on those actions listed earlier. Doing so may allow you to free up more time for leisure and spending time with family.

Mistake # 4: Writing your list out first thing in the morning

How To Organize A To Do List- 4

Making your to-do lists the first thing after waking up may sound reasonable. But some experts say that it’s too late when you do it first thing in the morning.

Some days, you may feel rushed and need to get somewhere or start on a project. If you have a meeting first thing in the morning, will that be enough time to write out actionable to-do lists? Maybe not, but you don’t want to feel rushed.

Solution: Make your to-do list the night before

Instead, it’s best to make your to-do lists at the end of your workday. You may have accomplished your priorities earlier in the day. You can set some time aside to plan for the next day.

Also, it’s an excellent way to wrap up and leave work behind (meaning tasks that can be put off for another time). Or if you’re like me, set aside some time right before you go to bed.

This time is right for me to reflect on my day and plan on what I want to accomplish the next day ahead. Do yourself this favor by giving your mind a rest and some peaceful time.


Making to-do lists has always been a traditional approach to being more productive. The biggest obstacle can be how the tasks are written out, and whether you’re able to take action on them.

The mistakes I discussed earlier are good reminders to keep ourselves accountable. What we write and intend to accomplish takes time and effort, and it has to be done the right way.

If you’re willing to take action, you’re more likely to see the intended outcomes you expected to achieve.

Are you making one of these mistakes on your to-do lists? Is something else you know of that makes to-do lists ineffective?

Leave a comment below and please share this post with others.



Eric is a time management consultant and owner of the blog, He takes great pride in helping people manage their time, personally and professionally. Eric is a firm believer in time freedom, as he believes in taking ownership of time. “Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He likes to go for long walks out in nature and been taking Zumba classes every week at his local gym. You can follow Eric via Facebook and LinkedIn.

10 thoughts on “How To Organize A To Do List: Four Mistakes To Avoid”

  1. Totally agree with you. Your goals always need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Time-Based. We don’t need to avoid things that due to the implications of getting them done, don’t necessarily disqualify them from being registered, but they need to be kept apart from those we could take immediate action to get them done!

    I prefer getting my to-do list done every night before going to bed. This would be a personal preference I guess. 

    Thanks for great recommendations on how to get our To-Do List set-up for success!

    • Yes, Juan! You make an excellent point about goals needing to be SMART. That’s a well-known acronym for keeping our goals realistic and achievable. If we can do that, we’re likely to accomplish our goals effectively.

      It’s good to hear that you like to make your to-do list at night. You don’t have to rush doing the first thing in the morning. It may work for some people, while others maybe not. It all depends on the individual’s preferences.

      Thanks for sharing your input! I greatly appreciate it.

  2. Thank you so much for giving us such a beautiful article and I got the opportunity to discuss something very nice topics through your article. When we list an organization we often make mistakes .Most people do not mention the calendar time when creating a list and they do not write down the numbering .I see that you have very nicely described this topics through your article and I hope that many who are not fully aware of this topic will know a lot. In fact, I couldn’t have made the organization list myself very well. After reading your article I have learned a lot about this and I hope that many people like me will learn a lot by reading this article. And I also hope they each share their experience with you .

    • Thank you very much, Shanta.

      You made a lot of excellent points. I’m glad to see you reiterating some of them, and how it can help others get organized. It’s good to note that it can be valuable, and you seem to understand how it all works.

      Thank you again for sharing your insightful comments- very much appreciated!

  3. Excellent post…Time Management is an area that I struggle with all the time…Based on your post I’ve been making key errors with my to do lists and need to make some adjustments. Images on you post are relevant and spread out nicely. I’m confused by the video on your post, because I initially thought that this would be a video of you….while the information was relevant and useful, I think this would have more impact coming from you, setting you up as an expert in this niche. 

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Bob. I’m glad you got to learn new things about doing to-do lists the right way.

      About the video- I like to post videos that are relevant to the topics I write about. They come from some of the best people on productivity, and I thought Muchelle did a great job on her advice. I plan on posting videos myself to explain the tips in ways I see it. So a mix of my own and then others is the plan for my content.

      Other than that, thanks for sharing your input!

  4. Hi Eric, thank you for sharing 4 mistakes we should a av while preparing our to do list. I find this very helpful because I’m planning to schedule each and everyone of my day in order to ensure maximum productivity. It is true that we sometimes write to do list and unable to meet up because we aren’t clear about what to do. We end up trying to figure what to do and end up not following our plans.

    If we take our time to break down complex tasks into smaller chunks, we’d be able to allocate proper time frame for each tasks so we can achieve good results. I so much love time-blocking. Using a calendar is something I’d do too.

    Preparation is key. Preparing the tasks list a day before the task (especially at night) would be helpful so we can maximise our time properly.

    • Of course. It’s good to know that you’re moving forward in the right direction.

      Yes, time blocking seems effective (at least on my part, it works well).

      Thanks for sharing, I greatly appreciate your input.

  5. Hi Eric, Thank you for this insightful post. I am one of those people who write to-do lists and I must say I’m pretty good at completing them. I find it difficult to get much done without one. I don’t follow the detailed plan however because writing things down is more of a reminder for me, than anything else. I’m a doer so I hate spending time breaking down the tasks.. I usually do the breakdown in my head and manage to accomplish them in the required time 90% of the time.


    • Thank you, Cindy. I’m glad to know you enjoyed reading this post.

      That’s ok with what you mentioned. Some people write to-do lists and get straight to the point, while others can go without them. As you said, people don’t want to spend that extra time to break down those tasks. I can tell you’re one of those “Let’s cut to the chase and get it done.”

      But for others like myself, I write down those tasks then break them down separately. It helps stay on track by writing them down. As long as you’re taking action on those tasks, it doesn’t matter if you plot then out in your mind.

      That’s great to know. Thank you again for your insightful thoughts- much appreciated!


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