One of the most important things you can do for yourself — and your business — is learn how to make an effective to-do list. Your to-do list keeps you on track with your goals, and reminds you to tackle important projects.

Unfortunately, many of us get sidetracked when it comes to the to-do list. We get bogged down with life or mundane tasks that distract us from what’s on the list. Additionally, it’s not uncommon to pack the to-do list so full that it’s discouragingly impossible to complete it.

If you want to create a more effective to-do list, here are 3 things to keep in mind:

1. Prioritize

Any effective to-do list is based on priorities. You need to understand what matters most to you, and put the vital items at the top of the list. Figure out the most important things that need to be done. I start my day by thinking about which items absolutely must be accomplished, whether it’s finishing a big project for a client, or whether it’s vacuuming the floor.

Once you’ve identified what needs to be done that day, put those items at the top of the list. They are the things you will start on first, to ensure that they really do get done.

2. Be Realistic

Be realistic about your to-do list. Don’t create an endless list of things that need to be done when you know you won’t get to them. Also, try to be realistic about how long a task takes. Factor in potential travel time, and consider that some tasks might be more complicated than others. I know that it will take more time to finish a big project than it will to vacuum the floor.

If you know that you are likely to be interrupted, take that into account as well. There is no planning completely for life, but you know that there is always the chance that the unexpected will swoop in and turn your day upside down. Recognize this, and be ready to adjust as needed.

Creating a to-do list can work on trial and error. As you learn more about how you work and what to expect, your estimates for tasks will become more accurate.

3. Coordinate Your Calendar

When you know that you have an item on your to-do list that will take a lot of time and mental energy, block out time for that task. Whenever possible, coordinate your calendar with your to-do list so that you can schedule your priorities. Frequent task-switching can reduce productivity, so being able to devote a set period of time to an item on your to-do list is important.

You should also learn how to say no in some cases. It’s unrealistic to think that you can do everything all the time. Figure out how your priorities mesh with your schedule, and say no to things that might not fit in right now. Your to-do list will be more effective if you don’t cram it full of non-essentials.

With a little planning and tweaking, you can create a to-do list that guides you through your day and helps you finish what’s most important in your life.

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I'm Miranda and I'm a freelance financial journalist and money expert. My specialties are investing, small business/entrepreneurship and personal finance. The journey to business success and financial freedom is best undertaken with fellow travelers.

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