Karen Jones Consulting


How To Create An Effective To-do List

Like most busy business owners, you’ve probably had days where you wished you had a clone that could help you finish the seemingly endless jobs that need to get done. While technology hasn’t quite advanced that far, we do have a tried and true solution that can help us increase productivity, efficiency and rein in the chaos that can creep into our daily lives. It’s the classic To-Do list.

The concept is easy enough, right? Just make a list of all the things that need to get done. Unfortunately, this tends to leave us with a documented laundry list of things we can’t accomplish. Thankfully, a little thought and a few simple steps can help in creating a to-list that helps you manage your day instead of leaving you feeling overwhelmed and ineffective.

Plan Ahead

Creating a to-do list the night before helps ensure you get a great start to the following day. It lets you hit the ground running, making sure your fresh start to the morning isn’t wasted on figuring out what to do next. You can jump right into working on those priority tasks without distractions. Organizing the list of tasks the night before lets you consider what’s been done, and helps you prioritize what still needs to be completed.

Break Projects into Tasks

Another common mistake when creating an effective to-do list is in making it too high level, too large, or too vague. Leave the strategic goals to the strategic plan. Use your to-do list to outline day-to-day steps that help you get to that strategic goal. One way to accomplish this is to set daily goals, and to break these goals down into smaller tasks. Write down the actionable steps that need to be completed to achieve your daily goals.


With only so many hours available in a daily, it’s important to prioritize tasks to help manage your time and resources effectively.

Urgent/Important tasks are the first priority that need immediate attention. These tasks would include things like actionable steps required to manage a crises, meet a pressing deadline or solve an immediate problem. These tasks can end up high jacking your time and resources and leave you reactive instead of proactive.

Urgent/Non-Important are tasks are those that require immediate attention, but that may not necessarily help you to achieve your goals. These tasks can be dealing with emails and returning certain calls or handling interruptions by staff.

Non-Urgent/Important tasks are important to goals, but may not need to be handled right away. These tasks help lay the groundwork for future success, and it’s important to take care of them before they become urgent tasks. These tasks help you become proactive instead of reactive.

Non-Urgent/Non-Important tasks are distractions that should be avoided if possible. They can be anything from surfing the web, to too much time adding too much detail to reports, too searching for pretty pictures for presentations.

It’s also important to create realistic to-do lists that consider both the tasks that need to be done and the time and energy we have to do them. Prioritization is a helpful step in creating realistic goals. Eisenhower’s Urgent versus Important grid is a great tool for helping to prioritize tasks.

Organizing by energy

Our energy levels change over the course of the day. It’s important to consider energy levels when planning tasks. Save those complex items for when your energy is high, streamlined processes when you’re at normal capacity, and save the easy stuff for when you’re winding down.

When it comes to staying organized and productive, creating an effective to-do list can help you stay on top of your game.