Three Steps to Create a To-Do List that Actually Works

A To-Do List That Works

How frustrating is it when you look at a long list of to-do items, but don’t know where to start?

The consequence often is an overwhelming feeling.  Maybe you even flinch as you look down at your to-do list at 5 PM and realize that your most important “gotta do” work never got done.

The worst is when your most important to-do tasks get pushed from one day to the next.  Then Friday rolls around and you realize it’s still there…Aye!

The good news is that you don’t have to toss your to-do list…although some days you may feel like it 🙂

You can create a to-do list that actually works!

Just apply three, easy steps to your to-do list, and you’ll see how much more effective you can be.

Even better, your to-do list will become shorter,  make more sense, and increase your confidence when tackling your biggest projects.

This three-step process shows you how to create a to-do list that actually works. It even has an acronym – POP.

  1. Priority – Get clear on what needs to get done first.  Prioritize from the perspective of yourself, your manager (or client), and organization.
  2. Outcome – What’s the outcome of the items on your to-do list? If not that’s clear, you may be ‘doing work for work’s sake’
  3. Physical action – Huge projects don’t get done….steps do.

Who doesn’t want a to-do list that POPs 🙂

Three Steps to POP Your To-Do List so it Works

Try these steps using your current to-do list or brain dump to reduce your frustration.

Step 1: Priority

The first step is to identify which items on your list must get done first.

There are two questions I like to ask here:

A.) What’s important to you? – Which ones are urgent (think Where’s the fire? — better put that out) and which ones are important (ahem…like that book project you’ve been meaning to get to). If it doesn’t fall into one of the categories, time to put them at the bottom of the list or maybe consider removing them all together.

B.) What’s most important to your manager and organization? – There may be a few items on the list that don’t fall under urgent or important for yourself, but you realize that it’s urgent/important to your manager and organization.  Or, if you’re an entrepreneur you can consider this client and business.  These get moved up as well.

By the way, you probably have a “hunch” on what your manager or client’s priorities are but may not be completely clear.  Have a conversation with them to clarify their priorities.

Step 2: Outcome

Many hours of effort go to waste every single week because of this missing step.  Clarifying where you want to “go” before you “do” makes all the difference.

When you clarify the outcome of the task first, it helps you prioritize and work smarter.

For example, one thing that’s been on my to-do list for months is to upgrade the memory of my computer. It would still be the same today, if I hadn’t clarified the outcome.  When I did, I realized the outcome wasn’t a computer with more memory…it was a faster computer and more productivity.

Suddenly I realized that this is something I should take care of immediately!

Defining the outcome is pretty simple. For each task, ask…

What does it achieve?

Or, What’s the one thing I can do on this to-do list that will make everything else easier?

Well, what if you don’t know the outcome you want?  Consider taking that item off your list.

Step 3: Physical Action

Even if you’ve skipped steps #1 and #2, if you just add this one step it will make your to-do list MUCH more effective.

For example, for months I had “upgrade computer memory” on my to-do list’, and I was making zero progress.  When I took a moment to write down my next physical step, I realized my next step was…

…Google what kind of memory I needed  (yes, “Google” is a physical action to me)

…Google the best place to buy the memory.

…Google if I could install it myself or someone else should do it.

Seems like a lot of next physical actions involve “Googling”.

The key here is to avoid actions that are vague like implement or research. Instead use concrete words like email, call, draft, and Google.

Watch how much more productive and powerful your to-do list becomes when you do this.

Some Handy Tips to POP Your To-Do List

  • Use your brain dump or start with your current To-Do list… you don’t have to start from scratch
  • Think about what’s important to your manager and your organization as well
  • Ask yourself this one essential question; ‘what’s the one thing I can do on this to-do list that will make everything else easier?’
  • Use ‘doing’ words

So right now, pull out your to-do list, choose one of the steps above, and apply it.  Notice this gives your to-do list and your productivity a nice POP!


PS: Next week I share with you a key strategy on how to work smarter not harder. Share this with a friend who can benefit.