If you’re serious about working smarter, you’d better start with your to-do list. Random scribbling and one-word items might work well as a rough draft, but developing a structured to-do list (and sticking to it) will help you stay on top of your tasks AND keep your sanity. Whether you’re a fan of handwritten memos or to-do list apps, check this quick set of tips for inspiration and quick fixes.

Add time estimates to your to-do items

Open to-do lists usually become way too long (hence useless) in a breeze. There’s an easy fix for this: note down a (rough) time estimate next to each to-do list item. This will help you assess whether you can or cannot squeeze in additional tasks more easily.

Note each item as an action

I started doing this ages ago, taking advice from the late 43folders. Phrasing each to-do list item as a specific action (e.g. write report for ClientA) adds context to your activities, and helps you visualise the tasks you need to work on. The random “things to do” instantly become more tangible … and your brain feels happier and action-oriented.

Categorise your activities

Frequently, to-do lists are a work-in-progress, with new activities added in no specific order. Dividing your (long) list into sections or themes (e.g. communications, clients’ projects, personal projects, home) caters for easier batch-processing of similar activities, for increased productivity. It also helps you keep motivation high: striking off all tasks of a section triggers a strong feeling of accomplishment – stronger than ticking off the same tasks in random order within a general list. Try and see!