How To Tackle A Never Ending TO DO List – 5 Easy Steps


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Does your TO DO list drive you mad? Do you work through as much as you can each day, only to find that you have added on as many as you have taken off – if not more? – You are not alone, and this post can help you tackle your never ending TO DO list in 5 easy steps so you can take back control once and for all.

How To Tackle a Never Ending TO DO List

TO DO lists are always made with the best of intentions.

We want to get more organised and write everything down – but that’s the problem!

  • Do you have at least one TO DO list on the go right now?
  • Is it accurate and up to date?
  • Is it daunting?

Your TO DO list can end up being an amalgamation of everything that you need to do in your life – which can look frightening when all written down, if not totally impossible – and that’s where the issues arises.

If your TO DO list is too daunting, you will shy away from it at all costs, and end up not tackling anything.

Worse still – after a while you will ignore some or all of the items on it as you really don’t want to do them anyway.

This has a totally draining effect on you every time you think about it or look at it, and who wants that?

When a TO DO list is done the right way, it can be of massive help to you. Most importantly of all it can ease the stress of having to remember what you need to do at any given time.

So – grab your TO DO list, or lists, and work you way through these steps (I’ve gone through an example of my own TO DO list to help as well) – you may just feel lighter and able to tackle anything afterwards!

I have a free printable TO DO list available HERE if you fancy grabbing a copy!

My TO DO list – an example

I want to add in an example of a TO DO list here – so that we can work through it together and you can really see what I am talking about! so here goes (and bear in mind its only very loosely related to my own TO DOs, I wanted to ensure that there is a specific example for each step so you can see how things work clearly)

cluttered TO DO list

So, you’ve got your list, I’ve got mine – but where do you start!

All will be revealed …

STEP 1 – Declutter your list

It seems obvious, but the very first thing to do with your list is to sanity check it to ensure that everything that is on there should really be on there.

There may be things that you have had on for a while that have now been superseded by something else, or have become completely obsolete.

Get rid of them now! they are just cluttering things up so you can’t see clearly anymore.

step one declutter TO DO list

In my example, I have taken off having to write thank you’s as this has already been done, and also the oven cleaning as this is usually done after Christmas (for obvious reasons I think!).

I have done them as I knew they needed to be done, they have just been left on the list by mistake.

Ah the bliss of crossing things off!

Related: Things To Declutter From Your To Do List

STEP 2 – Take off the NICE TO DO’s

I wrote a post a while back on NICE TO DOs, which showed that not everything has to go on your TO DO list.

In fact – it’s better when you separate things out a little – it makes it clear what really has to be done and how much you have to get through.

This is the next step in decluttering the list some more!

Bascially just go through your list and take off all those things that you would actually really like to do if you ever had time to do them, but that really don’t matter to anyone (apart from you) if they get finished or not.

They are the genuine NICE TO DOs.

Add them all to a new list and keep them safe for anytime when you want inspiration for how to spend an unexpected afternoon off, or when you have created more time to get them done. I keep mine in my home file (of course!)

For now – they don’t belong on your TO DO list as they are clouding the issue somewhat!

step two - take off the nice to dos

In the example, I have taken off  “Learn french”, “Read book I got for Christmas”, “Research Kindles vs. iPads”.

These are all things that I would like to do if I had time, but are not going to affect anything if I don’t do them.

They may come back onto the TO DO list at some point in the future as they may become genuine TO DOs – so always refer back to them regularly.

STEP 3 – Schedule what can be scheduled.

The key to moving things from your TO DO list to DONE is to get them scheduled in your diary.

You are far more likely to complete a task once you have allocated time to it.

In the list you have you may have found that there are several items that naturally have a date attached to them – so move these straight away to the correct day in your diary and take them off the list as well.

You must of course always promise to check your diary everyday and DO the jobs as they come up – but that’s a given really! – if you can see you won’t have time that day to do it, then move it to the day before or the day before that – its always better to do something early than be late……

For the example, the things that I can transfer to the right date in my diary are as follows:-

  • “Buy sisters birthday present” – it has to be bought before her birthday (I usually add in special birthdays a month in advance so I have plenty of time if something needs ordering), with time to post as well (added 3 days before birthday).
  • “send cards to people with birthdays this week” – again I usually send cards 2-3 days prior to each birthday so I write that in my diary (you may prefer to do this once a week, but as the post box is in my road I pass it twice a day on the school run so it’s easy to do as and when I need to)
  • “cancel milk for Thursday” – we have an old fashioned milkman – so I would write in my diary on Wednesday to cancel the milk
  • “buy cake ingredients for Saturday” – I would add these to my shopping list, or make a special trip if I can see I won’t be at the shops by then
step three - remove the scheduled TO DOs

NOTE – Any scheduled tasks should never again go on your TO DO list – so this step should only be needed on the first go through – as you should get into the habit of writing all scheduled tasks into your diary straight away – it makes life much easier!

We are now left with the genuine TO DOs – things that absolutely need to be done, and that haven’t got a timeframe and so can’t be moved to the diary (scheduled).

These are the DANGER TO DOs! – as they can easily be lost or forgotten.

STEP 4 – Group items together in projects

Projects seems a grand term for this really, but it seems to work for me (maybe that’s my corporate background coming to light again!).

Everything in your life will fit into a certain area, whether it be general home, general work, a specific project you are dealing with at that time, to buys, errands, calls to make, websites to look at etc…..

If you group your TO DOs into the “projects” that make sense to you, then you can start making sense of the projects!

Whatever your areas are, have a heading for each, and fit your items into the correct heading – see the example for more details:-

step four - group into projects

An added bonus to this is that you can see much more easily if anything relies on anything else for it to get done – so you can start to prioritise what comes first in each project as well. There’s nothing worse than trying to cross something off your list and finding that something else had to be done first.

Straight away now you should be feeling more confident when you look at your list – as you can focus on different things and start to see that they can be accomplished.

STEP 5 – Tackle the easy wins

The last step to organising and making sense of your TO DO list is to tackle the items on the list that really are easy wins.

Things that take 5 minutes or less to finish are fantastic easy wins to get your list down to the bare minimum as quickly as possible.

Most of us can find 5 minutes here and there in our days – or even while doing other things:-

  • Calls could be made when walking to the school pickup, or while waiting for a kettle to boil.
  • Errands can be done when we are in town anyway for something else.
  • Websites can be looked at when we are relaxing in the evening, or even in our lunch break if you work
  • Bills can be paid online quickly usually nowadays.

When I have a blitz of my TO DO list I try and tackle all the quick wins in a week – which really motivates me! – It’s so nice to see things get crossed off one after the other!

You could simply star those items that you are going to fit in that week and keep the list with you diary, or (as I do), add a few to each day in my diary so that I can see how many I can fit into the day without stressing myself (some have more than others).

quick wins to do this week

By the end of the week you should have a much more manageable TO DO list, with everything in projects, and in priority order – ready to tackle when you can.

Finished TO DO list

So you can see here in this example I’ve been able to quite easily go from 29 TO DOs in a random order, to 11 TO DOs in a logical layout and grouping – what do you prefer?

NB – I’ve kept the project titles in even if they don’t have anything in them at the moment, as this is now a working TO DO list and things will be added as they come in – so its always worth having the projects ready to go!

How To Tackle a Never Ending TO DO List

Getting to grips with your TO DO list is fundamental to staying in control of your time and your stress levels. 

If you can get into the habit of using your TO DO list alongside your diary, regularly reviewing it, and allocating a time to do each one, then your life as a whole will be a lot easier.

You will be able to see when you will possibly need help or struggle to get something done in time, and be able to utilise any down time much more productively – and what could be better than that!

The trick now is to keep allocating the next TO DO in each project to a time slot in your diary – keep scheduling those TO DOs and gradually the list will fade.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you can ever completely get rid of a TO DO list, but you can manage it much better and keep it under control!

P.S. If you want to learn even more about TO DO lists then why not CLICK HERE to see why I think a Master TO DO list works best!

This article was written by Chrissy

Hi - I'm Chrissy... Having run my own business for 12 years as a Professional Organiser and Interior Designer, I know what works (and what doesn't!) when it comes to setting up a home that works both functionally and aesthetically. Now you can mostly find me in a coffee shop or at home, working full time on (which I setup back in 2011) sharing all my tips and ideas. My mission is to help you create a home that you love to live in every day...


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