It’s very likely that you’re using a to-do list right now. And even if it’s not a written or electronic to-do list, you probably have one in your mind. 

Having a list of tasks that you should do is a handy way to organize your life. But do you still feel stressed out or disorganized even when you work with a to-do list? This happens because a to-do list isn’t an adequate way to meaningfully manage your work or time. 

In this post, we’ll look at why to-do lists fail and what to do about it. 

To-do lists don’t emphasize priorities

When you create a to-do list, it usually consists of a random assortment of things that need to be done. 

Since it doesn’t have structure highlighting what work needs to be done right away and what should be done later, a list may only continue to add to the confusion you feel. 

So, to overcome this, one way you can boost your to-do list is by creating priorities based on the following: 

  • What’s on your list that needs to be done right away? 
  • What tasks are time based? For example, a follow-up call with an important client has to happen at a specific time only, so you need to arrange your list accordingly 
  • Are there any urgent tasks on your list you can’t miss? Arranging them at the top and getting them done will help you more
  • Do you have tasks that are location based? Some tasks need to be done at a specific place, like an office, at home, or at a retail store. Arranging your to-do tasks based on how you’ll travel will ensure you efficiently carry out your tasks in the right places

In this way, when you arrange your to-do list based on priorities, you’ll focus better and get the most important things  out of the way. 

Your to-do list does not include steps

When we create to-do lists, we usually make them just for the day. And this is still a good practice, but to get the most out of it, you need to make your list exhaustive. 

When you create a short to-do list consisting of things like getting your taxes done, doing grocery shopping, or emailing your customers, you’re leaving a lot of things out. 

For example, to do your taxes, you first need to gather your pay slips. Or you need to check your expenses and find out what you can deduct from your taxes. So, the single task of doing your taxes actually needs to be broken up into several steps. 

Likewise, if you’re trying to get more customers, you need to start by finding them, emailing them, arranging calls and more. 

So, make your to-do list more exhaustive by listing out every step that needs to be done. Doing this brings clarity to your list and frees your mind from thinking about more than it needs to. 

You’re leaving out ‘trivial’ to-dos

Another reason your to-do list isn’t working out is because you haven’t added every single thing you need to do. 

To become more productive, you need to manage your attention as well as your time. And you’ll find it hard to harness your focus when you have ‘to-dos’ floating around in your mind as well as your physical or digital list. 

To fix this, start by listing every single thing that needs to be done today as well as in the future. Don’t restrict yourself to tasks for today only. And also, make sure that you add the most trivial and minor tasks to your list as well. 

For example, things like responding to an RSVP, or picking up a book from a friend, or reading a blog post someone sent you needs to be added to your list. 

The reason why this is important is because when you list out everything, you keep it from occupying space in your mind. 

When it’s down on paper and then organized, you free up your mental energy to actually do the work instead of worrying about a hundred things that need to be done later. 


A to-do list is a helpful tool to make you more productive. But it can also lead you to going around in circles if you don’t use it well or don’t think through your tasks carefully. 

It isn’t enough to just list the major projects for the day, you also need to list out smaller tasks, and organize projects into bite size jobs.  You may need to break tasks down based on time, urgency, and location. And you’ll find out that you need to push jobs until a later date. 

The more clarity you make, the less stressed you’ll be and as a result, you’ll also be able to get more done