5 Tips for Writing Better To-Do Lists

To-do lists can be a great organization and scheduling tool for freelance proofreaders and editors. But sometimes, the familiar to-do list can work against us; after all, what’s more overwhelming than a never-ending list of tasks and looming deadlines?

That’s why, in this post, we’ll share our top five tips to make sure your to-do list works for you:

  1. Find the tools that work for you.
  2. Keep your to-do list short.
  3. Write a master list.
  4. Stick to the specifics.
  5. Link to-do list tasks to your career goals.

Read on to learn more.

1. Find the Right To-Do List Tools

While this method works for some, there are many more options for writing to-do lists to explore. These include using:

  • physical planners, diaries, or calendars
  • the bullet journal method
  • word processing and spreadsheet software
  • apps and programs designed to create to-do lists (such as Todoist and Any.do).

Think about which of these types of to-do lists will best suit your workflow. Keep in mind factors such as your budget, workspace, and personal needs.

2. Limit Your Daily List to 3–5 Tasks

This might sound counterproductive, but shorter to-do lists are more manageable and far less intimidating than longer ones.

A long to-do list can make it difficult to focus on each task without worrying about everything else that needs completing. You might also find yourself struggling to complete the entire list in time, which can be demoralizing and stressful.

By limiting yourself to just three to five tasks a day, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Use the following criteria to decide which tasks will make the cut:

  • The task has a hard deadline or is time sensitive.
  • The task is something that needs to be done, not something you hope you can do.
  • The task has a clearly defined start and end (i.e., not a repetitive task such as “check email inbox”).

If you complete all of these tasks before the end of the day, you can then move on to extra tasks.

Of course, keeping such a short to-do list means you’ll have to miss off some important activities, but if you’re worried about forgetting some of your daily or weekly tasks, we have a solution in our next tip.

3. Keep a Master To-Do List

For every task that doesn’t make it onto your streamlined daily to-do list, put it on a master list instead.

This is simply a list of everything you would like to complete within a given time frame: either daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on your schedule and workload.

You might want to split tasks up into sections to make your master list easier to scan. For example, you could use subheadings such as “Finance,” “Work Projects,” and “Continuing Professional Development.”

Now, you might be thinking that this advice contradicts our previous tip, but the important distinction between your daily list and your master list is this: once you’ve written your master list, keep it out of sight.

That’s because the point of this list isn’t to prompt you to finish every task on it; it’s simply a tool to help you remember what you would like to get done.

You can then refer back to this list at the start of each day and move tasks onto your daily to-do list when necessary.

4. Stay Specific

You might think you’re saving time by jotting down a quick note like “respond to emails” or “work on website” on your to-do list. But vague entries like these can actually make you feel less motivated, as they appear broad and overwhelming.

When you write each entry on your list, make sure it is a specific, individual task. It can help to imagine you’re telling someone else what to do: you need to provide clear instructions on the task that needs completing and break it down into steps that are easy to follow.

“Work on website,” for example, could instead become “write descriptions for services page.”

Now you’ve got something specific to focus your attention on.

5. Use Your Goals as Motivation

If you find yourself reluctant to get started on a to-do list entry, try associating it with a goal you’re working towards.

For example, let’s say your goal is to gain 10 new clients. On your to-do list, you have an entry titled “Write business descriptions for social media profiles.” You can link your goal with this task by giving a reason under your to-do list entry:

  • Write business descriptions for social media profiles. Reason: This will make my proofreading business more visible to potential clients online.

Having a tangible result will help you find the motivation to complete tasks. And if your goals are time-sensitive, identifying related tasks will help you know which ones to prioritize.

If your goal is to start a career as a freelance proofreader or editor, you can add signing up for a free trial of our courses to your to-do list. Buy both Becoming A Proofreader and Becoming An Editor as a bundle, and you’ll save 15%.

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