7 Most Common To-Do List Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Notebook 7 to-do list mistakes

To-do lists are something that most of us have tried to use for one or another purpose at least once in our lifetime. But did you know that 41% of to-do tasks are never completed?

The only way to truly understand how to use a to-do list appropriately is to stop making 7 most common to-do list mistakes, and we’re here to help you avoid them all!

Mistake #1: Tasks on the list without set deadlines

The most common to-do list mistake people make is not setting a specified deadline/goal for the lineup. A good task management list works only when you set a deadline for completion.

Our tip would be to schedule deadlines as near to present as possible by making daily and weekly lists rather than monthly lists. When you evoke a sense of urgency for yourself, there’s no room for forgetting, procrastination and “getting busy” with unimportant tasks.

Mistake #2: Too many items on the list

We’re afraid to say, but “the more the merrier” will most likely fail when it comes to lists.

Once you have categorized the list you’re about to make by a deadline, we highly advise setting the maximum number of items allowed on this list. This will help you prioritize what really has to be done and what can wait or be eliminated from your mind completely. The most appraised form of to-do lists is a daily list. With this category, we would advise choosing the 3 most important/urgent tasks that you can actually manage to finish today. That will help you gain a deeper understanding of the importance of the things you might wish to put on a list and understand how many of those are actually unnecessary to be included.

Too many items on your list are found to make you feel intimidated and more stressed because a bigger number of problems to be solved makes our brain think of them as “neverending stories”.

Mistake #3: Not knowing which tasks to put on the list

A major mistake being made at this point is not knowing how to choose the most important tasks out of all the things you might feel the need to work on that particular day.

A solution to this is to follow The Eisenhower Decision Matrix table (see the picture below).

It shows a great way of organizing thoughts and to-do lists on which tasks are important, which tasks could be assigned to your colleagues’ list and which tasks are actually worthless to spend time on, so you eliminate them.

The best way to make your to-do lists work is to choose 3 items daily from the “Decide” quadrant (important but not urgent), and delegate the other tasks accordingly to this matrix.

Mistake #4: Lists that have mixed up goals and context

We’ve all made to-do lists in our minds that contain not only work-related tasks like “finish project X” or “call CEO of Y company” but unrelated tasks, such as “do the laundry”,”pick up the kids from daycare”, call my best friend”, buy a new lamp for bedroom” etc…

The problem with not sorting these tasks is the amount of information you start to clutter your brain with. And, the more uncategorized information our brain has, the more stressed it becomes. Our brain is always trying to understand, what should be done first and how to connect these many tasks into one plan of how to do it all.

If you truly enjoy making lists for everything, then please do, only remember making separate lists for work, household to-do lists etc.

Mistake #5: Not tracking the progress

Too many people don’t know how to track progress. They make to-do lists and tick them off when finished. But just ticking something off the list does not make you evaluate your work efficiency with each task.

Luckily for us, there are many task management and workflow services that offer to do exactly that for you. Prioritize what to put on a list and make your day-to-day life easier by creating deadlines, organizing tasks and archiving the finished ones. These are many solutions that can make you gain a deeper understanding of your work ethic, efficiency and time management. By accessing such data you can learn for the future and thus become more and more efficient at achieving your goals.

Some examples of such services are Asana, Evernote, IDoneThis, Trello etc.

Check out our guide on how to choose the right task management tools for you and your company.

Mistake #6: Not understanding where to start, once the list is ready

Starting with a random task can increase your risk of multitasking the whole day, jumping from one task to another one, because you cannot decide where to start.

Advice from countless leaders worldwide is to start the day with the most unpleasant project on your list. By “unpleasant” we mean “most important”, and by “most important” we mean the task you’re most likely to procrastinate on.

You might know this as Mark Twain’s “eat the frog first ” quote. This works because you’re more likely to enjoy completing the next tasks on your list once you have completed the first one. Also, it is a great way to discipline yourself and gain higher self-respect when you acknowledge a completion of the hardest to-do item. Here are more great ways to prioritize your work.

Mistake #7: Creating the list on the day

This is a very common mistake that can lead to counterproductive list-making. Not only doing this makes you start the day off with a stressful brainstorming session, it can also make you become less organized.

Experienced to-do list users always advise making the checklist in the evening before. A great way to do this is by planning for the next day just before leaving the office.  If you use this method, you relieve your brain of thinking about tasks outside working hours.

Guidelines for building a list that works:

  1. Specify the type of list by a deadline, based on your needs. (Make daily lists rather than monthly plans.)
  2. Set a limited number of items on your list and stick with it. (We advise a set number of 3 tasks per day)
  3. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to categorize tasks by importance and urgency. (Become aware of what needs your attention and what is actually just a distraction)
  4. Specify lists and don’t mix your household to-dos with tasks at work. (Create separate lists if you wish to have everything organized)
  5. Use workflow and task management tools to help track your efficiency (Check out our Ultimate Productivity Tool List, including 30 software solutions that can help your to-do list become easier to track and manage.)
  6. Eat the frog first – always start with the hardest task.
  7. Prepare the list in advance. (Best time to prepare for the next day is just before leaving the office)

To-do lists are supposed to increase productivity, not lead to a self-loathing cycle of setting a goal, missing it, feeling bad, and repeating the same process once more. So, if your system hasn’t been working for you, try the tips above to feel better about your work and get more done.

To-do list cartoon