How to Create a Better To-Do List

Create a better to-do list by doing it the day before.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #144

When I roll out of bed, the first thing I do on my way to brush my teeth is check my Blackberry to see if anything life-changing and critical has happened between the hours of 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. while I was sleeping. Apparently, Bernice has an emergency problem with her fonts and needs help using small caps. As a strong proponent of proper font usage, I have to help. By the time I've brushed for 2 minutes with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste, I'm already captured by the trivia of the day. Dashed are any hopes I might have had of doing anything reasonable with my time.

It seems we human beings like bright, shiny objects. When any distracting tidbit beckons, we let ourselves be derailed and we go bounding happily after the distraction.

Bernice's email distracted me because I didn't have anything else on my plate. Or to be more accurate, I had a lot on my plate, I just let her distraction come in before I'd committed to my activities for the day. Yet, in the moment, her plight was just way more compelling than sitting down to figure out what I should do today. After all, I know that one of the things on my to-do list today is to shop for a new shredder. If I were a spy, engrossed in international intrigue, that would be really fun! I could shred state secrets, thus dooming my political enemies and making me boss. But I'm not. I just want to shred my latest credit card statement. You can't be too careful, you know!

How to Create a Better To-Do List

Today’s tip came from my friend Jameson Detweiler, who is about to launch a new productivity tips website called LessDoing.com.

The time to choose today's to-do list is yesterday. Too late. But wait! All is not lost, since the time to choose tomorrow's to-do list is today. Today, you have the objectivity to think clearly about tomorrow. You can simply recline in your hammock while having your feet massaged by your experimental automated foot massager made entirely out of environmentally friendly materials. As the corn husks gently caress your ankles, you can easily make a list of everything you need to do tomorrow. Do that now.

Identify the Most Important Task on Your List

Look over your list and choose the one thing you absolutely want to make sure you accomplish. Put a big star next to that one. For example, pre-order a copy of Get-it-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More from your favorite bookseller. That's your super-special to-do item for tomorrow. When you get up and start to work, do your super-special item before you open your email, listen to your voicemail, or let anyone interrupt you. By choosing a super-special to-do each day, you can guarantee that you'll make at least a little progress on that item.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.