If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably tried more to-do list templates in your life than you care to mention.
From the primitive pen and pad…
…all the way to the latest and greatest in to-do list technology…
One thing is true —
And as a result, there are countless to-do list apps on the market, all claiming to be the best.
But, for one reason or another, nothing really sticks, right?
Sure, you might use one for a couple weeks and love it. But, then, you get derailed and all of a sudden, you’re still getting email reminders about tasks you were supposed to check-off two months ago.
We’ve all been there.
And it begs the question:
Why Don’t Traditional To-Do List Templates Actually “Work”?
The answer has more to do with the way our minds operate than the design of any one app or to-do list tool.
Because here’s the thing:
You might think making a long list of all the things you need to accomplish helps you stay focused. But, studies show that the complete opposite is true.
“The Zeigarnik Effect” — as it’s called in psychology — shows us that incomplete tasks actually derail concentration. A list of unfinished work creates anxiety and actually lures you away from the work at hand.
Luckily, there’s an alternative.
No more writing “find a good to-do list app” on your to-do list.
No more sitting in bed, wide awake, while you stress about all the stuff you’ve been meaning to get done for six months, but haven’t found the time for.
Instead, try these new, focused ways to create a successful to-do list template for yourself.
(We think you’ll love the results.)
The 5 Rules of an Awesome To-Do List Template
#1. If it doesn’t have a due date, take it off your to-do list.
“Highly successful people don’t have a to-do list, but they do have a very well-kept calendar. One of the most consistent messages I got from all the interviews and research I’ve done over the past few years was that no matter what it is, if you truly want to get it done, schedule time for it.”
In other words, a to-do list that focuses exclusively on what you need to do without actually figuring out when you’ll do it makes no sense.
That’s why using a to-do list template that emphasizes due dates — and holds you accountable to those due dates — is so important.
Here’s how we organize our tasks in Zapty:
The “My Tasks” section of your dashboard on Zapty gives you a bird’s eye view of all the tasks, compiled from every project you’re working on.
Tasks are broken down by due date, but we actually take things a step further:
In Zapty, you’ll assign a specific time to complete the task, too.
That means your tasks don’t just sit on some never-ending list — each task holds you accountable to a specific day and time when you need to complete it.
Of course, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much time you need to allocate for bigger tasks (like the “Create Proposal” task in the example above).
And that’s where this next rule for the best to-do list template comes in:
#2. The difference is in the details — get specific in your tasks.
Imagine this: you have a to-do list made up of a bunch of little tasks and one or two larger (and higher priority) ones.
Which do you think you’ll get done first?
The smaller, simpler tasks, of course. It’s human nature to procrastinate and even the most determined, focused among us tend to look for reasons to put off that one big project looming overhead.
Here’s the good news: it’s not all that hard to psych yourself out of this procrastination rut. Here’s the easiest way to do it:
Break down large projects into smaller, digestible tasks.
Studies show that a series of “small wins” has a positive impact on your motivation and productivity.
“When dopamine flows into the brain’s reward pathway (the part responsible for pleasure, learning and motivation), we not only feel greater concentration but are inspired to re-experience the activity that caused the chemical release in the first place.”
Small tasks help you focus and motivate you to check off the rest of the items on your to-do list, too.
In Zapty, we nest those smaller “subtasks” within the larger project task. Here’s an example for you:
The bigger project — “Create Proposal” — is listed as a task in the to-do list for the day. And when you open the task, you’ll find a list of five “subtasks” that equal the completion of the larger project.
And don’t worry: each subtask has it’s own delivery date and time, too.
Now of course, larger projects often require partnering up with other members of your team to get work done. And that’s where this next rule makes all the difference:
#3. Collaborative tasks help hold you accountable.
Think about your current process for managing tasks assigned to you from a colleague.
You get an email that says “Hey, can you do this thing for me?”
Then, you respond, “Sure, when do you need it by?”
The task goes onto your to-do list…you email a few more times over qualifying questions…
The whole process of collaborating today feels clunky and inefficient, right?
Collaborative to-do list templates solve the problem by allowing colleagues to add tasks directly to your to-do list.
And that can mean deliverables for a larger project, or even just quick decisions that need to be made today. Here’s what I mean:
Instead of that back and forth email waiting for approval on a banner proposal, Michelle added the task directly to my to-do list in Zapty. In a single click, I can answer Michelle’s question and move on to the rest of my day.
Pretty cool, right?
The same goes for when you need to assign tasks out yourself:
#4. Don’t be afraid to delegate.
To-do lists have a history of focusing on the things you need to do.
But what about the tasks you’ve delegated out to your team?
At the end of the day, those tasks still roll up to you. And so, I’m sure you want a fast efficient way to see the pending tasks you’ve assigned to your team’s to-do lists.
That’s why a great to-do list template takes into account not just the work assigned to you, but also the work you’ve assigned to others.
Here’s what that looks like in Zapty:
A quick switch of the view to “Tasks Created by Me” gives a full view of all the to-do’s you’ve created on the platform — including those assigned to your team.
Here’s the final rule of a killer to-do list template:
#5. Under-schedule, over-deliver.
Look, I’m sure you have a million things you need or want to get done each week.
But, if you’re following the first rule of this post, then you know you can only put items on your to-do list that have a scheduled block on your calendar.
For the ambitious among us, that may lead to overloading your calendar with tasks in hopes of getting everything done.
And I’ll be honest: that’s a mistake.
Remember the Zeigarnik Effect from earlier — the more you have on your to-do list, the harder it is to focus on any one task.
That’s why it’s so much better to schedule less: you’ll have a better chance of actually meeting your goals for the day.
Schedule more time (1.5x the normal time you think a task would take) than you think you’ll need. Then, give yourself at least a 15-minute buffer between tasks to give yourself a breather and account for any run-over.
And there you have it:
Finding the right to-do list template might feel impossible, but by building a list that:
- aligns with your calendar
- has detailed tasks
- makes collaboration easier, and
- isn’t overly ambitious
You’ll set yourself up for success. And, if you want to do all of those within an existing platform built to make managing your to-do list easier, give Zapty a try.
Sign-up for a free account on Zapty and start building your to-do list today.