4 Stellar Strategies for Creating Better To-Do Lists

by Tom Ewer 5 Minutes

A to-do list in a notebook.A to-do list is a great way to get all your tasks laid out in front of you. If you’re a service business owner struggling to get things done, creating a list of tasks can help you visualize everything you need to accomplish. But if you want your list to actually make you more productive, you need to approach it strategically.

The problem is that a to-do list doesn’t provide you with a clear path to getting your tasks accomplished. This is where a strategic approach – such as organizing tasks by importance or scheduling them in advance – can help you get more done. These and similar techniques enable you to create a clear plan of attack that will help you move from one task to the next with relative ease.

If you’re hoping to get more done with your to-do lists, here are four key strategies you should try.

1. Focus on One Task at a Time

When you have a lot to do, you may feel tempted to multitask. If you don’t have a clear place to start, it can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions and you might want to tackle everything at once. But when you’re only doing a little of each task here and there, it can be extremely difficult to get anything done. Your attention is divided, and you’re wasting time switching back and forth and trying to pick up where you left off.

The easiest way to overcome this to-do list problem is to focus on just one task at a time. When you create your list, put your biggest priorities at the top (more on prioritizing below), then rank your other tasks in order of importance. Designing your to-do list this way gives you a direct path from start to finish, eliminating the problem of figuring out what to do next and making it possible to focus.

When you’re ready to start working on your tasks, begin with the first item. Don’t worry about the other projects on your list until that first task is complete. Only when you’ve finished all the necessary steps of the initial project should you move on to the next one. Continue this pattern until you’ve made it to the end of your list. If a new task comes up during the day, either add it to the end or place it somewhere in the middle based on its priority.

2. Schedule Your Tasks

Finding the time to complete your tasks can be one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done. As a business owner, you have a lot to do – and new items are always popping up. You may struggle to accomplish the tasks on your to-do list because you feel like you just don’t have enough time to do it all.

To beat this problem, start scheduling your tasks for each day, even if you can only focus on large projects a bit at a time. Take a look at your schedule and designate a specific block of time to spend on each task. Treat this time like any other appointment, and only allow yourself to alter the plan if something extremely important comes up. During the block you’ve scheduled for a task, focus only on getting that project done.

If you feel like you’re seriously lacking in available time, take advantage of the small parts of your day that are often wasted. Taking just ten minutes to do one small piece of a project can keep you moving in the right direction. Try to schedule some of your tasks for the five minutes before a meeting starts, or during your daily commute. You may be surprised at how much time you’re able to free up.

3. Follow the 1-3-5 Rule

Trying to take on too many large projects at once can often hold you back. When there are just too many things to do, you’ll often have difficulty focusing and struggle to find the time to get tasks done productively. If you try to tackle too many projects in one day, you may end up getting nothing done at all.

Instead, try following the 1-3-5 Rule. To use this rule, create a to-do list of only nine items: one big task you definitely need to get done, three medium tasks, and five small tasks. Instead of trying to tackle a few big projects or fill your list with many small items, you’ll be forcing yourself to focus on the tasks you can realistically accomplish.

Limiting your to-do list this way makes you feel capable of meeting all your goals for the day. Because you’re picking and choosing which tasks you’d like to do, you don’t have to feel pressured to take on additional projects. The 1-3-5 Rule gives you the flexibility to get different kinds of tasks done, while ensuring you don’t get overwhelmed.

4. Assign Weight to Your Tasks

All the above methods require you to assign priorities to your tasks, but how do you decide what’s most important? When you have many different things that need to get done, it can be difficult to know where to start. To succeed with your to-do list, you’ll need a way to determine which projects should come first and which can wait.

Assigning weights to your tasks is one strategy that can help you figure out your priorities. To create a weighted task to-do list, you’ll want to rate each of your tasks in three areas: seriousness, urgency, and growth. Seriousness describes how important the task is, urgency depends on how soon the task is due, and growth stands for how quickly the problem will get worse if it isn’t handled immediately.

Give each of your tasks a 1 to 3 ranking for each category, with a 3 being the highest. Then tally up the rankings for each task, so you’re left with a number between 1 and 9. Tasks with the highest number should be put first on your to-do list, while those with a lower number can go last. If you have a tie between two or more tasks, use your own judgment to determine which should come first.


Your to-do list should be a productivity tool, not just a list of things you have yet to finish. If you want to be a more productive service business owner, consider incorporating one or more of these to-do list strategies into your daily routine.

Let’s recap the four ways you can give your to-do list a boost:

  1. Focus on completing one task at a time. Don’t move on to the next item until the first is completed.
  2. Create a schedule that sets aside time for you to complete each task.
  3. Use the 1-3-5 Rule to focus on one large task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks each day.
  4. Assign weights to your tasks to determine which are the most important.

Which to-do list strategy (or strategies) do you think you’ll try? Let us know in the comments section below!

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.