What To Put On Your To-Do List

Over the years, I’ve had many people ask me what they should put on their to-do lists. The thing is, this is not a simple question to answer. Each person treats their to-do list differently.

Some people use their to-do lists for the big things, so the smaller things never make it there – they just get done by default.

Others only put only work-related tasks on them. W
hy? Mainly to avoid that feeling of restriction or attachment to their to-do list when they’re not at work.

Some people only put the things they think of on their to-do list. So things like email – from external sources –  remain in the email program for storage and execution there.

ver someone asks me the question that just so happens to be the title of this post, I normally try to figure out what someone puts on their to-do list right now.

Still, the answer always winds up being the same.

Put everything – every single task – on your to-do list.

Your Mind was Meant to Be a Factory (Not a Warehouse)

Now let me be clear: some tasks can be done before they make it to the larger to-do list. But I still capture all items on paper, instead of trying to keep track of them in my head.

Why? Because my head is a terrible long-term storage device.

I get every task out of my head. Where it goes is dependent on what it is. I put all of my ideas in Drafts. I will open up Drafts – something I call “Drafts Mode” – a few times each day. That’s when those ideas get reviewed. And how do I know what to look for when I go into Drafts Mode? I look at my to-do list.

(By the way, Drafts makes a great gift for the productive Mac or iOS person in your life.)

I don’t put things like Garbage Day or Recycling Day on my calendar. Why? Because I don’t make dates with either of those things. My wife does put them on the calendar, and because of that, I can see when the pickup dates are. Then I put them where it serves me better: on my to-do list.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what app or tool you use for your to-do list. You could use apps like Todoist or ClickUp. Maybe paper planners like the Monk Manual or bullet journals are your thing. I tend to use a hybrid approach – using digital tools and analog tools alike… and you might do the same.

It’s the methodology that matters. And it matters that you use that methodology consistently, just like it matters that you capture consistently.

My Mantra for Capturing

When you capture everything, you regret nothing. 

I’m an edge case for sure, but I have super handy things in my to-do list that repeat annually like “Put up holiday decorations” and “Research gift ideas for anniversary.” By doing this, I never need to think about remembering these things. I just need to-do them when they show up. I can use that energy saved to-do those things – and a host of other things – better.

The right level of awareness leads to taking the right action.

Your brain can’t really decide what truly matters at the moment that task or idea comes to mind. It can only do that later, when you have time to process the events. Give your brain a break.

So the next time you think of something that could go on your to-do list, think twice. Because if you’re thinking that it could, then it should.