Work Smarter, Not Harder: The Importance of To-Do Lists

25 Jan, 2023 | Read in 6 minutes

Discover how to-do lists can help you work smarter, not harder. Learn the importance of to-do lists for productivity and efficiency in this comprehensive guide.


One of the most effective ways to increase productivity is by using a to-do list. With the fast pace of today's world, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks we need to accomplish every day. However, with the right tools and strategies, we can work smarter, not harder.

Wake up at 6 am, and then you get ready to carry out your daily routine. Then after taking a shower, you have breakfast while watching Youtube or reading a magazine. After doing some morning routine, you start your work. You're excited and full of energy. You want to be productive and complete your to-do list.

Fast forward to 1 pm, and you seem a bit stressed and overwhelmed. You're missing something on a to-do list. Besides that, you must revise a few things that make you lose focus. You wish you could find a reset button to start the day with a different strategy.

You can start your day differently. Thousands of people experience the same thing daily at work or in their personal lives. Luckily, you can do simple things to make your life more organised, a to-do list.

The definition of a To-Do List

To-do lists are tasks you must complete within a certain period. They are usually of short duration, such as a day, a week or a month. Tasks are sorted by priority and written on a piece of paper. However, along with digitalisation, the to-do list has turned digital.

Productivity task lists come in two formats: the essential sections at the top and the less important ones at the bottom. By reflex, you will see the critical section and focus on the initial priority.

Having a list of everything you do means you shouldn't forget anything important. You will see which tasks require immediate attention by prioritising tasks on a to-do list.

Fundamental Element

Simply, the essential elements of a to-do list depend on the overall content. But most of what these elements contain is:

  • Group tasks from most important to least important
  • The task list is centred on work priorities or personal projects. You can combine these two.
  • Deadlines for each task and a place for progress updates
  • To-do list software to organise all items. You can also combine it with time management tools.
  • Have detailed job descriptions but are still flexible

You can also use to-do lists to create shopping lists and personal goals. If you have a shopping list, you can fill it with a list of ingredients you will buy. Remember to add details such as a checklist, where to shop and the amount.

Personal lists can be in the form of a morning routine or daily plan. A morning routine can increase happiness and productivity. Erin Engle, PsyD, Colombian psychiatrist, says that a morning routine with a typical wake-up time, a healthy breakfast and a little exercise is a good start.

Benefits of a To-Do List

So what exactly are the benefits of a to-do list? To-do lists make us feel intimidated, don't they? Daniel Markovitz in Harvard Business Review says to stop making to-do lists; they only trap failure and frustration. But if the execution process is correct, the to-do list will provide benefits, such as:

1. Sharpen memory

We all know that our memory is limited and needs external assistance. The to-do list acts as an external memory to keep you in mind with the list of responsibilities. This list also reinforces information in case you forget something.

2. Increase productivity

What are the signs that your productivity is increasing? CNBC released six signs that your productivity is rising; one of the signs is that you understand how to prioritise things. Making a to-do list is the best way to prioritise things.

3. Increase motivation

How can a to-do list increase motivation? Indirectly, task lists clarify and break long-term goals into short-term ones. Goals become more realistic and look easy to achieve. You will feel satisfied when you cross off one of the goals.

4. Time management

You can arrange tasks in the to-do list according to their importance. This means that you can ignore things that you don't need. When you get rid of distractions, you succeed in time management.

To-Do List Best Practices

An article in the Harvard Business Record released four successful methods for implementing to-do lists. Kelsey Arpaio implemented four different strategies in four days. Here are the steps you can sample:

1. Monday: Organise tasks in the calendar

The first method is to rely on a digital calendar to manage time and tasks. This is like time blocking; you should estimate how long it will take to complete. Block the time you used to. However, you should still allow room for flexibility, such as checking email or having lunch. This model is suitable for people who like structure and planning.

2. Tuesday: Do only one task

Our brains get overwhelmed after having more than seven things to choose from. Making a long to-do list feels stifling, and we want to close it again. Sometimes you want to think about things that are not related to work. So, why not do one thing first?

The point is to save your to-do list and use it as a reference, not to work through it all. Take the most priority task, then write it in a place you see often. The idea is to focus on just one task each day. This method is suitable for people who have difficulty concentrating.

3. Wednesday: Try using a digital task manager

Wednesday can be an opportunity to use the digital to-do list. This method facilitates the process of managing to-do lists. You can take it anywhere you want, and adding new tasks is easy. This method is great for those of you who have many things to organise, use your phone a lot and are involved in various projects. A few tips, use a digital task manager, which can track the progress of tasks and has many valuable features.

4. Thursday: Make three lists

According to Allison Rim, one to-do list is not enough to organise a complicated life. The task list will be full of urgent priorities and must be completed. When you have many tasks to complete, try making three instead of making one list.

Task list one contains essential tasks that are not time-sensitive. The first task list includes duties that you must complete today. At the same time, the third list includes tasks that will never be completed (self-development).

Start with the second to-do list because it's the most urgent. Then continue with the first to-do list. This method is suitable for those of you who have competing priorities and don't need much support to stay focused.


Overall, to-do lists are a simple yet effective tool for managing our time and tasks. They allow us to stay organised, prioritise tasks, and track progress. We can avoid feeling overwhelmed by our to-do lists, but instead use them as a guide to accomplish what we set out to do.

To-do lists can be created in various forms, from a simple piece of paper to a sophisticated task management app. Whatever form you choose, the key is to use it consistently and make it a habit. Don't beat yourself up too much for not meeting your to-do list. Remember, nothing is perfect, and you need the practice to improve yourself.


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