7 Really Common TO DO List Mistakes – And How To Fix Them


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Find out how to make your TO DO list better today. Learn what TO DO list mistakes you might be making, and what you can do about them. You’ll be more productive before you know it!

7 Common TO DO List Mistakes, And How To Fix Them

TO DO lists, when done right, can be a massive help in creating the life you want as easily as possible. However, done wrong they can be a hinderance at best and and impossibly overwhelming mass of tasks at worst.

I wanted to look today at the 7 most common TO DO list mistakes people often make, and give solutions as to how to stop doing them.

Why not take a look through and see how many you may be doing right now…

Mistake #1 – Treating Your TO DO List As A Brain Dump

Your initial creation of a TO DO list may well be a brain dump – as that’s how you can know for sure that everything you need to get done is on it.

But it shouldn’t stay that way for long….

There should be some sort of organising done to your list to ensure that you can easily see what’s what, you can keep track of things, and nothing is missed.

So many people don’t sort their list out, and it stays an overwhelming mess that’s not fit for purpose…


Start looking at your TO DO list as a help rather than a hinderance to you.

I use a system of 3 areas that TO DOs can go, and each one has a very specific role in it (which I will talk about in more detail in another post). That system consists of a MASTER TO DO list, a NICE TO DO list and my DIARY.

Instead of just adding everything to one list with no reasoning behind it, I add each task into one of these 3 places, in an ordered way.

  • Anything with a deadline set goes straight in my diary with time to spare before the deadline (life happens!)
  • Anything that I’d love to do, but won’t really affect my life if I don’t do them, gets added to the NICE TO DO list, and I have categories in this list so I can see more easily what I have on there.
  • Anything else should be something that I need to do but that has no real deadline to it. These get put onto my MASTER TO DO list in specific categories or project headers, so I can keep track again of where I am with everything.

Much more organised – and really easy to keep track I’m sure you agree…

Mistake #2 – Being Reactive Rather Than Proactive

Do you decide on what to tackle on your TO DO list depending on how urgent things are?

Yes, things that are timely should be tackled first, but the only reason they are on your MASTER TO DO list are because they didn’t have a deadline when you wrote them down there (otherwise they would have gone straight into your DIARY – see #1).

As such, it means that you should have plenty of time to deal with things before they become urgent.

If you are leaving things on your TO DO list until you are forced to get them done (being reactive), then this can be incredibly stressful and tiring. You will always feel rushed, and have to find time to get things done when there isn’t any necessarily.


Get into the habit of moving items from your MASTER TO DO LIST into your diary on a daily/weekly basis, and ideally in the order that they will make the most difference to you (proactive) rather than because you have to.

It’s so much more free-ing to run your life rather than feel like it’s being run for you…

Funny - I add things to my TO DO list that I've already done, just so I can cross them off

Mistake #3 – Having One Long List

As I briefly mentioned above, one long list that’s being added to each and every day can be so overwhelming.

You won’t know what’s important, and you will no doubt lose things within that massive list, not a great way to be.


It’s a really easy fix, but creating categories and sorting these sections out makes all the difference.

NOTE – I am just talking about the MASTER TO DO list here, I have assumed that you have followed #1 and have taken off the scheduled items and NICE TO DO’s… – but if you haven’t – this will help this point as well.

For example – you may have several TO DO’s on your list all based around things you need to buy for your home, or sort out within your home.

You could create a title on your MASTER TO DO list of “Home Shopping” and then have all the items grouped below this.

Then another category of “Home One Off Jobs” and have all those listed below that.

You can see then exactly what you have to get done and can get to it much more easily.

For example, how much better would it be to sit down and see a smaller list of shopping and be able to focus on that when you have time to look online for items than it would be to have to sort through the whole list?

Mistake #4 – Writing Tasks That Take Too Long To Do

Nothing’s going to stay on your TO DO list longer than a task that you’ll never have time to complete.

If you are just writing down a massive end goal such as redecorate a room or start a business, then you will always skim over this when looking for things to do.


We tend to work much better when we have smaller, easier tasks to do.

As such I suggest using a category for a project you want to complete, or a goal you want to meet – and then have sub tasks below that.

For example – for “redecorate a room”, you may then have sub categories like – “pick colour of walls”, “decide on layout”, “find a decorator”, “write shopping list”, “buy x”, “buy y”, “buy z” etc….

All of these are much easier to tackle in the busy-ness of daily life one at a time, and before you know it, you will have completed the whole big task!.

The other benefit of doing it this way is that you will be able to see what you’ve done on something and what you have left to do, so it’s easier to delegate tasks if necessary and get more done while still keeping track.

Mistake #5 – You Avoid Tasks You Don’t Want To Do

Doing this means that tasks can really haunt you on a daily basis…

You will forever see them on your list, and feel more and more negative towards it as a result.

It’s so draining to constantly be reminded of things we don’t want to do, and I don’t recommend it as a way to tackle your list at all.


Just get it done.

I know it sounds simple, but it’s so effective and can make all the difference to your general levels of motivation.

Have you heard of the phrase ‘eat your frog first’? It’s a simple theory that if you do something you don’t want to do right at the start of the day, the rest of the day seems so much easier and you get more done overall. It’s always best to get the worst out of the way!

If it helps, you could give these sort of tasks a pretend deadline and work towards that for more urgency to get it done on time, but don’t allow procrastination to set it, tasks are often much easier when you start them than you have thought they would be.

Mistake #6 – Tasks With Deadlines Are On Your List

A good example of this is if you are invited to a wedding in 6 months time. You will have to sort out a present, maybe overnight accommodation etc… but as it’s so far in advance it just goes on your MASTER TO DO LIST.

This means that it runs the real risk of being missed until it’s too late to get a nice present, and all the local accommodation has been booked up. Not only is this more stressful for you, but it’s embarrassing and completely avoidable…


It doesn’t matter how far in advance a task has a deadline for, if it has a deadline that’s set in stone then it should go in your diary at the right time to ensure it’s done in plenty of time.

For the wedding example above, write a TO DO in your diary as soon as possible to book accommodation so that it’s sorted, and then maybe 2 months before the wedding you can look for a present which will give plenty of time for anything personalised or with a long delivery date.

Mistake #7 – You Have Multiple TO DO Lists Everywhere

It’s so easy to write little notes for yourself as your day goes on with reminders and things to get done, but before long you’ll be in a mess and it has the potential that a lot of these things get lost along the way.

The biggest difficulty comes when you have separate lists for the various different parts of your life i.e. work, play, social etc…


Keep your TO DO list on you at all times so you can add to it wherever you are, and only have 1 TO DO list at any one time.

I usually have a note set up on my mobile phone where I add in things I think about during the day, and then have the habit of transferring these things to my MASTER TO DO list or DIARY at the end of the day.

If I am at home (where I keep my MASTER TO DO list), then I add those things to it straight away.

It doesn’t matter what the TO DO relates to, it all goes down on one list – I can categorise to see things things more clearly, but I know exactly what I have to do at any given time.

After all, I am only 1 person so it stands to reason that everything is in one place that relates to me!

Do whatever works best for you, but get a system that means you aren’t forever writing things on post it notes or your hand or anywhere else that’s right there when you want to note it down…

7 Common TO DO List Mistakes, And How To Fix Them

So – the main fixes from all these mistakes are as follows:-

  • Use 1 list for everything that needs doing – a MASTER TO DO list
  • Categorise the list so that you can clearly see what has to be done and where you are on certain larger tasks
  • Only have things that aren’t scheduled and are really needed on your MASTER TO DO list
  • Be proactive and do everything on the list without procrastinating about the things you really don’t want to do.

… and if you follow them so that they become habits you will be much more focused, your TO DO lists will work with you rather than against you, and things will get done.

Sound good?

I hope so!

P.S. If you’d like to know more about TO DO lists, specifically how you can tackle a never ending TO DO list, then you may want to take a look at this post next (CLICK HERE).


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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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