To-Do Lists for Work: The Best Format

by | May 1, 2023

to do lists for work

A mountain of deadlines, lack of motivation, no clear starting point; these are all things that can make you feel lost. Organization and prioritization can help you to find a path, though. In fact, they’re two of the most impactful factors in deciding how much work you get done.

To-do lists combine them both in one simple, powerful tool. The right to-do list turns all your endless tasks into a little note. They are a tried-and-true way to get things done. 

Here’s everything you need to know about how to make the best and most effective to-do lists. 

The best to-do list

You might be thinking, aren’t to-do lists simple and straightforward? Is a format really necessary? The answer is a resounding yes! While to-do lists are excellent ways of keeping track of what you need to get done, they can often be too:

  • Long
  • Short
  • Vague
  • Detailed
  • Confusing
  • Clunky
  • Stale
  • Meticulous

Before we get into formats, let’s take a look at some ways that you can decide what makes it onto your list, why, and what your list will look like. 

To make the best to-do list for work, consider the following tips. 

Like this topic? Check out our article about organizing your desk for success here.

1. Note each task’s importance

It’s important to be selective about where each task goes on your list and why. Tasks should have a value, and it can help you to get around to them if you’ve included that value on your list. 

For example:

  • Talk to manager about raise (my work is meaningful and I deserve to be compensated fairly for it). 

This also frames your tasks around bigger purposes which can help you with personal and professional growth

2. Consider each task’s timeline

Some tasks have hard and fast deadlines, while others are more flexible. You can have multiple lists, for today, this week, month, or year. 

For teach task, think about when they absolutely need to be finished and why. Think about what you can postpone or bring up to make room for other things. 

Then, you can truly organize your list in order of urgency and importance. 

3. Delete what doesn’t absolutely need to be done

When you define the value and urgency of your tasks, you usually find that there are tasks you don’t actually need to do or aren’t worth doing. 

If you can’t tell what value a task has or it keeps dropping and dropping in urgency, scratch it off the list. If you still want to have those tasks, create a second list but make it your nice-to-do list. Tasks here are only to be completed if you have the time to or want to do so. 

4. Break up big tasks

Big tasks are daunting and can leave you feeling frozen in place, overwhelmed. Instead, break them up into little, actionable chunks.

Instead of a task labelled “hire more graduates”, break it down into smaller tasks such as:

  • Speak to local universities about talent
  • Post more job opportunities on relevant job-hunting sites
  • Look into local careers fairs to see about setting up booths there 

5. Ask others to hold you accountable

Collaboration makes things easier and more fun. Letting others know what’s on your to-do list helps keep you accountable, because you know others are also aware of your progress. You can ask them to help keep tabs on you and how you’re doing, and you can even turn it into a competition between you if you’re the competitive type!

6. Reward yourself

Every time you complete a task or a certain number of tasks, reward yourself. This could be with a small piece of chocolate, a nice lunch, or chatting to a coworker for a few minutes. You can also give yourself delayed rewards, meaning that for example, if you finish a certain number of tasks now you’ll get to watch an extra episode of your favorite show when you get home. 

Best to-do list formats

There are a few different ways to create to-do lists, and the best one for you will depend on a few things. Here are the best to-do list formats and why they might work for you.

1. The timed list/the Pomodoro technique

Will work for you if you: work well with deadlines and need clear boundaries. 

What it entails:

  • Choose a task and then set a timer for 25 minutes. 
  • Work on that task until the timer goes off.
  • Spend 5 minutes doing something nice. Relax, play a game, scroll on your phone, etc. 
  • Repeat until you’ve completed four sessions. At the end of the fourth session, take a longer break (about 30 mins or so). 
  • You only work on tasks during the 25-minute sessions. 

This type of to-do list helps you:

  • Eliminate interruptions
  • Learning how to estimate how long and how much effort a certain task will take you to complete
  • Work more efficiently 
  • Eliminate burnout
  • Improve work-life balance

2. The visual and tactile list 

Will work for you if you: need a list that it’s a bit more substantial than just a screen or a piece of paper, or if you’re crafty. 

What it entails:

  • Create a physical copy of your list. It can be as big or little as you like. You can use pictures for each entry, sticky notes, or use a corkboard/whiteboard and paper. 
  • Make your list something you enjoy working with, “crossing” tasks off of, and revisiting. 

This type of to-do list helps you:

  • Enjoy the process. 
  • Be more involved and mindful in your task process. 
  • Be more motivated to finish tasks. 
  • Be less averse to your to-do list. 

3. The 135

Will work for you if you: like a variety of tasks and feeling rewarded.

What it entails:

  • Choose 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks. 
  • Tackle the biggest first, then work your way down.

This type of to-do list helps you:

  • Create a positive forward momentum. It makes it easy for you to start your day and feel accomplished enough to keep going. 
  • Feel like you’re comfortably rolling down a hill of work. 
  • Feel rewarded, capable, and motivated.

Start ticking things off

The best to-do list is the one that helps you get what you need to do done. Hopefully these tips will help you to create your ideal to-do list, which might even end up being a combination of the ones listed here. Now, go forth and be productive!

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