Saturday SOS—organizing your to-do list

To-do list book. So there’s a daunting list of tasks on your list and you have no idea where to begin. Sometimes you just pick a task at random and go. Sometimes you don’t start on your to-do list at all just because it looks so scary. Well, the first thing on your to-do list should be “organize my to-do list.”

If you want to get through that list, you need to put things in order. It’s possible to waste lots of time figuring out what to do next, and it’s also possible to over think it so much that you just give up. You can avoid both of those problems by sorting your list before you begin. I organize my to-do list using the following 4 categories:


1) Quick. Any task that will take me less than 5 minutes comes up to the top of the list. At home, that can be something as simple as “feed the cats” or “add orange juice to the shopping list.” At work, usually it’s sending a follow up email, or searching for a blue pen in the filing cabinet. It’s important to do the tasks that take the least time first for two reasons. Firstly, it boosts your energy. If you can cross off multiple things in the span of 10 minutes, you’ll feel totally productive and energized to do more. Secondly, if someone is waiting on you for a quick answer, you will boost their productivity by getting the answer to them as quickly as possible.

2) Urgent. Anything that must be done by a certain time or by the end of the day should be next on your list. At home, this might include paying the electric bill or making an important phone call. At work, it could be finalizing a presentation or finishing a spreadsheet. Either way, get those things that are very urgent out of the way next. You’ll feel a lot of relief when those tasks are over!

3) Important. Next, tackle the things that are important but might not have a strict deadline. This could be clipping coupons for shopping on the weekend, or setting up a meeting that isn’t until next week. These are things that need to be done but aren’t as time-sensitive as the tasks mentioned above.

4) Can wait. These are the tasks that are just kind of floating—we know we need to do them at some point but they really can wait. At home this could be hemming a pair of pants you don’t wear very often. At work it could be reorganizing your filing cabinet.


So much to do in the back To-do lists come in all shapes and sizes. There’s really no one way to make a to-do list—just find what works best for you, whether that’s on a piece of notebook paper, on your iPhone, in a planner, or on a bunch of post-its. I keep my work to-do list in an old-school paper planner. I keep my “at home” to-do list on

Depending on what you use to record your to-do list, you’ll have to figure out how to organize it. For instance, when prioritizing my work to-do list, since it’s on paper, I use highlighters. (Pink for “quick,” orange for “urgent,” yellow for “important,” and green for “can wait.”) On, I just drag and drop the tasks into the appropriate order based on the 4 categories above. Do whatever you find increases your productivity the most.

How do you organize your to-do list?

images via Flickr (To-do list book. by koalazymonkey) (So much to do in the back by boboroshi)