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How to Write a Realistic To-Do List

Do you ever find yourself disappointed and stressed when you can’t finish everything on your to-do list for the day?

My most and least favorite productive activity is putting together a to-do list. I love how organized it makes me feel, but I hate how overwhelming it can be when I look at the long list of things I have to check off for the day or week. At times, it makes me feel disappointed in myself when I cannot keep up with the to-do list I created the night before. It stresses me out because the unfinished tasks pile up the next day. However, through various trials and errors, I’ve learned some tips and tricks that have worked for me to write a doable to-do list!

1. In one place, write down all tasks that need to be accomplished (even the most minor ones)

It is crucial to have all the tasks in one place in order to visualize them and successfully divide them up for the week. Make sure to include due dates or when you need to have completed the task. In addition, it’s important to include even the minor tasks in your list because it’s motivating to complete things that are easy, and equally satisfying to cross more things off of your list.

2. Think realistically about allotting time to finish these tasks

This task may seem like an easy step, but it’s the hardest. This step is challenging because you have to think about organizing practically, taking into account energy level, mood, and social environment. It’s hard to gauge these factors in advance, but keeping them in mind can help craft a to-do list with enough “bumper room” to complete and move tasks around throughout the day. 

3. Prioritize tasks based on when they need to be finished and the amount of time they take to complete

There are a few ways you could go about this, but I have a specific approach I take each time I plan out my day. I think that the morning time is the best time to start working through the to-do list. The main reason is that there are fewer distractions at that time of day. Also, if I cannot fully complete something, I don’t feel stressed about it because there are many other opportunities throughout the day to get it done. I like to have no more than two big tasks planned in the day because more that can be overwhelming, so make sure to add at least one fun activity to your to-do list to have something to look forward to in the day! They break up the day and give you something to look forward to in your routine. Before allotting time for these bigger tasks, it’s essential to figure out the best time of day for when you can work entirely focused. For these tasks, I usually block out time after lunch. I leave the smaller tasks for the morning when I am still waking up. I try to end my day with smaller tasks because this is the point where my energy level is the lowest. 

At the end of the day, the best way to make the perfect to-do list is to make it manageable for you. Manageability may vary day to day, but understanding your bad habits of time management and addressing rather than ignoring them will bring you closer to creating that ideal to-do list. 

Hareem Rauf

Wisconsin '25

I'm a freshman at UW Madison studying Life Sciences Communication.
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