Work Smart: 5 Easy To-Dos That Keep Your To-Do List Healthy

to-do list tattoo on arm

To-do lists are like fashion. One season sky-high stilettos are in, but three months later it's all about ballerina flats. Since the barrier to develop a to-do list app is relatively low, every few months a new tool pops up that gets people passionate about productivity. The key is finding one that works for you over the long haul, and using iistkeeping methods that'll keep you feeling footloose.

Teux Deux is one of the best in the category. This digital list-maker offers an easy platform to input your to-do's and cross them off as you complete them. When it first launched, Fast Company called it the "Web's Most Beautiful To-Do List." With a weekly calendar as your jumping-off point, using Teux Deux you can quickly add tasks to a day, drag them to another date if you run out of time, and there's even a "Someday" section for those items that don't need your immediate attention. The company's new iPhone app lets you sync your tasks on the go.

While Teux Deux's interface is clearly a winner, don't get sucked into its pretty bells and whistles. Instead, to make this and other services like it work for you long-term, follow these steps for a healthy to-do list.

1. Choose the right tool: This isn't all about technology. For some people the tool of choice might be a Moleskine notebook and a ballpoint pen. For others, it's a whiteboard hanging in the office. Whatever you do, focus on finding an option that works with your lifestyle. If you're an iPhone addict, Teux Deux might be a good choice. If you do a lot of work offline, maybe sticky notes will do the trick.

2. Be in the now: While it might be tempting to write down everything you have to do for the next few weeks, try to focus on what's on tap for the day or two ahead. Also, use a lot of verbs. This is something that author David Allen talks about in his popular book Getting Things Done. Instead of writing a broad task such as "Social Media Strategic Plan," change it to an actionable item such as "Complete competitive analysis for strategic plan."

3. Learn to delegate: Productivity blogger Merlin Mann talks about this regularly on his site 43folders. Instead of overwhelming yourself with too much work, think about people on your team or colleagues who can help you complete a task. For example, while you might stress all day something small like faxing a contract to a client, consider delegating this to-do item with an entry such as "Email David to ask him to send off contract."

4. Prioritize and reward: Your to-do list doesn't always have to be painful. While it should be a place where you manage your tasks, in order of importance, it's also a good idea to include some mini rewards on your list. If you know you have three or four things to do within the first hour at work, at the end of that specific list of items add a line such as "Grab a Starbucks coffee" or "Make restaurant reservations" as a way to break up your day and mix up your to-dos.

5. Plan ahead: Set aside some time toward the end of the day to revisit your to-do list and add items for tomorrow. This will help to keep your mind clear at night, so you're not haunted during your sleep about what's on your plate for the day ahead. Remember to include items that you didn't get done today, and check your calendar to make sure you're not forgetting anything that might be tied to a specific appointment.

Read more: Work Smart with Amber Mac - The Art of Listening Online


[Image by   Rob and Stephanie Levy]

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  • Mary Grace Hune

    I have found Michael Linenberger's book Total Workday Control to be an excellent model for managing your To Do List and email inbox.  He walks you through all the steps to move "task type" emails into your task list and setting up filters on the Task List in Outlook so you can easily see what needs to get done today and what can wait until tomorrow or later.  He calls his model "Manage Your Now" or MYN and he does often cite to David Allen's "Getting Things Done" book.  Now if we could get our corporate Android email app to be able to handle the Tasks portion of Outlook we could be uber-efficient.

  • hemidude

     Unfortunately, those of us with todo lists that are never completed are battling a common disease, which is a combination of being overworked, understaffed, underfunded, and unable to differentiate between the important and the urgent.

    Add to this the reality that many who are creative simply do not think or work in a linear fashion, so they end up stymied what the organized types look at like a simple and maybe even enjoyable task.

    What I would love to see is more discussion of differentiating important vs urgent, and organizational tools for creative people who will never make a list in a straight line nor in order of priority.

  • Assaf

    Interesting how you put it all together making sure the tool is not the only priority! I would also suggest which is a simple task management application to get things done. The novelty is the the database of checklists which allows you to get started right away. You know how it is when you need to start a new project and you are not sure what should actually be done.


  • David Kaiser, PhD

    Great ideas, @Amber. Specifically, I agree with you about choosing the right tool, to which I would add choosing the right technique, to fit the person. There is no "best practice" here, everybody has different wants, needs, preferences, so they need different tools and techniques.

    @Chris, you are right that tips and techniques won't help someone who can't seem to get things done. That person probably has habits and beliefs that aren't working for them. For me, it used to be a false choice: "I'm not organized, I'm creative!" I would learn later I can be both, but many disorganized people struggle with this or something like it. This is where I start when I take on a new client. After that, the techniques fall into place with ease.

    On the other hand, I have to disagree about the rewards, and the example you give wasn't a reward, it was a feel-good band-aid. A lot of my clients use rewards to great effect. You are right to caution about the reward creeping forward. The reward must be earned. A friend of mine, while working on his dissertation, when he would get near to complete on a chapter, his girlfriend would tell him no lovemaking until he was done with the chapter, when they would "celebrate." As you can imagine, this had a powerful motivational effect on his productivity! Not all rewards will be this dramatic, but rewards can be powerful, when used with discipline.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Time Coach to Authentic Leaders

  • Claudia Mayer

    Indeed TeuxDeux is lean and fresh, inviting users to enter their tasks and having a clear overview, possibly the maxim of perfect task listings in my opinion! Following your shoe preference example, TeuxDeux possibly fits classic stiletto fans best whereas handwritten post-it notes might be attractive for the good old Birkenstock community.

    What about the vivid crowd who loves special details, intense colour mixes or a pinch of charm and playfulness? For those who seek to turn 'to be done' into fun?

    Then, the new iphone app 'taskdude' is your matching mate in the fight against postponing everyday tasks. Grab your interactive retro-style fridge along with your movable post-it reminder notes and keep track of them whenever you decide to. Join me in humorous smart-tasking ... a grin in your face (especially after the clumsy animation videos) and your task is almost done! Find out more on

  • Chris Reich

    I rarely read this type of post because they are generally too basic to be of value. If a person can't seem to get anything done, "tips" won't help. And if they can, "tips" aren't helpful---usually.

    There are some good points in this post. #1 shouldn't be too quickly dismissed. True of every task---the tool must suit the person or it will not be used. As a consultant, I learned that one a long time ago. I may know the best way to get something done but if it doesn't suit the doer, it won't work. Sometimes a process with more steps is better than the most efficient.

    Adding action words is a great tip too. Smart.

    I'm mixed on the reward thing. I think people need to learn to feel the sense of reward that comes from accomplishment. Our society is far to hung up on reward in my opinion. You don't deserve a cookie for getting your work done on time; it's your job.

    I don't want to sound harsh, but if you feel you deserve a reward every time do what you're supposed to do, you won't escape the procrastinator's trap. Eventually the rewards get moved up---I worked with a person last week who was seriously behind at work. I went by to see her last Friday to find she had taken a personal day to have her hair done. When I called Monday she said that getting her hair done would make her feel better about herself and therefore more motivated to work. I wanted to puke. I dropped her as a client too. She is further behind this week than she was last week in spite of the haircut.

    I like to foster the reward of accomplishment. That's called maturity.

    Chris Reich