We've been getting obsessed with lists lately - and with good reason. Keeping a to-do list is a proven way to become more efficient in work and life. And if that's not enough for you, there's the dopamine hit you can look forward to with every item you check off.

But for many of us, list-taking falls apart somewhere between our inbox and the end of the day.

With a few easy adjustments, it doesn't have to be that way:

1. Built it into your routine

A list is as useful as you make it. In other words, keep it with you always - whether it's in your Moleskine or on your smartphone - and update it often. Life moves fast; your list can help you, but only if you actually use it.

2. Make sure your bullets are "doable"

  • Email Melanie
  • Tweet about HBR article
  • Call HR re: 401K
  • Begin Q2 project

One of these bullet points is not like the other. Three are easily doable and not at all intimidating - the fourth is vague, cumbersome, and unlikely to actually get done in its current form.

"Begin next project" - what's the first step of that process? Set up a kick-off meeting? Look at your budget? Whatever it is - that's your to-do list bullet. And unlike "begin next project" it actually stands a chance of getting done.

3. List first, inbox later

Realistically, incoming email (or Slack or Jeera, or whatever tool rules your days) will significantly impact your to-do list. But it doesn't have to be your to-do list.

Set your to-do's at the start of the day. Then revisit your inbox and incorporate your pressing email action-items into that list.

This step - triaging your email and figuring out which items are getting on your to-do list - will save you from that email spiral. You know the one: where you get bogged down in replies and never really minimize that inbox window until bedtime. Bonus tip: if an email will take less than a minute to deal with, do it there and then. You'll be crossing of the more-stubborn list items in no time.

4. End of day, start of list

It can seem counterintuitive, but updating your to-do list at the very end of your day is a vital step.

Why? It gives you a head start on the next day and, crucially, it also helps you switch off your workbrain before bed. To oversimplify, you're emptying your brain so you can truly recharge before the next day's deluge.


Rinse, repeat. Happy listing.