Make a to-do list that works

How to Make a To-Do List That Works


A lot of us create to-do lists, but the trick to getting things done is to make a to-list that really works. Often, when we list everything we have to do for a given project or even a given day, we end up with enormous lists. These big lists overwhelm us and paralyze us. We don’t know where to start, so we many times don’t start. But there’s a better way. And that’s to make a to-do list that actually works. 

Recently, while prepping for an episode of the RepcoLite Home Improvement Show (catch the episode here!) we ran into that overwhelming feeling. Our plan was simple. We wanted to list all the fall projects that homeowners should tackle to make sure our homes are ready for winter. However, what was supposed to be a simple list with some bite-sized projects turned into more pages than we wanted to count! It was too big, too overwhelming . . . and yet all of it was important stuff that we couldn’t cut.

Here’s how we took that massive list of jobs and made it into a to-do list that actually works! And here’s the really good news: this will work for every single to-do list you ever make!


We had a massive list of jobs and by the time we were reading page three, our heads were spinning. So, took that big list and broke it up into several smaller lists. Doing this was a game-changer!

Try it! Take that way-too-big to-do list you’ve created and turn it into several smaller daily or weekly to-do’s. When you make it smaller and more manageable, you’ll be amazed how do-able it starts to feel. And feeling that you can actually do it is half the battle!


An easy mistake to make when it comes to a big to-do list is to plan on tackling all of the work on the weekend. It’s a mistake for a number of reasons. For one thing, it means you’ll spend all week feeling “project dread” as you look ahead to the weekend.

For another thing, saving all the work for a weekend often results in projects that take much longer than anticipated. For example, I’ve often started projects on the weekend only to find that I don’t have everything I need. Then I’m off to the store on a quest for parts or tools and the 2 hour project I thought I had is now something much more time consuming!

Avoid that at all costs. Instead, ease up your weekend and eliminate “project dread” by tackling smaller items from your list during the week. Accumulate your parts, double check that you’ve got the right tools, do small amounts of prep work. Every little project you tackle during the work week is time off your project at the end of the week. And, it will mean that when you’re ready to start on Saturday, you’re really ready to start! 


This is the same concept as what we covered above in Tip #1–it’s just that now you’re doing this with each large project. (And it makes Tip #2 much easier to visualize and enact!)

What we’re getting at here is this: instead of writing the big job of “Clean the Windows” on your list, instead write down:

  • Gather Window Cleaning Supplies
  • Remove Screens
  • Clean Front Windows
  • Clean Back Windows.

To-do lists that actually work are lists that turn that one big project into its smaller, component parts. Yes, it’s a bit of a mind-game you’re playing with yourself, but it really works. You may not have time and energy to clean all the windows after a work day, but you probably have the 15 minutes it will take to gather the supplies you need and place them all in a bucket or box in the garage.

Sure it was only 15 minutes of gathering . . . but it’s 15 minutes you won’t have to do on Saturday. Take the next day and get the screens down and by the time Saturday rolls around . . . you’ve got a jumpstart on the project and it’s much easier to accomplish. Secondarily, you’ve also already started it–which makes it much less likely to be a project you put off for another week!


If all that sounds good, but you’re still having trouble getting yourself moving during the week, try tip #4. Set a 10 minute or 15 minute timer and tackle those small items on your list every day. Work as fast as you can and quit when the timer goes off.

It’s a great way to get large jobs accomplished in chunks that feel painless. I stumbled onto this when I stared at my work bench that was a complete disaster. I’d been lazy and negligent and now I had to pay the piper. I was looking at easily a few hours worth of work–or so it seemed at that point–and I couldn’t find the energy to do it.

So it sat there, night after night, nagging me like projects do. Then, one evening I had a brainstorm. I got home from work and dinner wasn’t going to be ready for 15 minutes. I figured I’d do as much organizing on the work bench as I could before the tacos were ready. I made more progress than I figured I would and so the next night, I did the same thing . . . only this time with a timer set for 15 minutes. The second the buzzer went off, I flipped off the lights and went on with the fun part of my night.

I did this every evening that whole week and by the time I flipped the lights off on Friday, the work bench was perfect. I’d spent an hour and fifteen minutes worth of work, but I did it in painless fifteen minutes chunks. Try it! It really works!


There are more ways to make your to-do lists actually work. Those are four that have helped us have great results. What about you? Let us know in the comments if you have any brilliant tricks to getting things crossed off your lists!

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