The 3 Types of To-Do Lists you Need to Truly Change your Life

Ah, to-do lists. If you’re anything like me, you know ’em, you lovelovelove ’em, you use ’em like the Bible or oxygen. But for the longest time, I was G-U-I-L-T-Y of making the crappiest to-do lists known to mankind. Sure – they looked great on paper. They were written with the prettiest Pilot pens on the prettiest paper in the prettiest notebooks. But they weren’t written in a way that propelled me closer to my goals. I mean, my BIG goals. They might’ve brought me closer to feeling productive, but they weren’t bringing my closer to really being productive, in a way that was essential to making big strides in the things I should’ve been making big strides towards.


Today we’re talkin’ the 3 types of to-do lists you need to truly change your life. And I don’t mean “change in your life” like a new lipstick or good jeans, although those can totally change your life, too. (Like these 26 things!I mean CHANGE YO’ FREAKING LIFE. Bring you so much closer to doing things you never thought possible, by MAKING them more possible. Because when you’re that much more organized, you’re that much more productive, and when you’re that much more productive, you’re that much closer to turning can’t’s into can’s and dreams into plans. Get your to-do lists ready – they’re about to get a major makeover. 😉

The 3 Types of To-Do Lists you Need to Truly Change your Life - on Coming Up Roses

Erin Condren Planner on super sale here!

The first list: What To-Do?

Enter, your standard to-do list. Chances are, your list might read something like…

  • Do laundry
  • Call friends to catch up
  • Answer emails
  • Clean house

…Sense a problem yet? There are absolutely zero qualifiers for success in this list! Each bullet point feels nebulous, vague, and random without legit benchmarks for anything. If anything, a basic to-do list can serve like a sorta brain dump for anything + everything that you want/need to accomplish. But beyond that, this kinda list will actually hurt you more than it will help you.


You’ll likely be left feeling totally overwhelmed with little to no idea how to actually judge success. So, just as you won’t be able to track progress to make sure you’re staying on task and getting done what you’ve gotta get done, you also can’t celebrate any real wins since they’re these completely unclear milemarkers. Because there are no specifics here, we have NO real clue how much (or how little) constitutes “progress.” So.. “answer emails.” If you have an inbox of 1,000 emails and answer 2, can you check it off the list? Was that enough?

Chances are, you put it on the list because it needed more major tackling than 2/1000 (a whopping 0.2% completion rate). Same goes for “clean house” or “do laundry.” Does “clean house” mean every single room + space in the whole place, or does doing a bathroom count for a cross-off? Similarly, do we mean deep clean, hands and knees, Mr. Clean bottles out? Or just tidying up with maybe some light Swiffering? And doing laundry…we talkin’ one load? Two? Seven?


Here’s what helps with that…


The second list: What RESULTS?

I just finished reading Girl, Stop Apologizing, and it’s a suggestion that Rachel makes that I lovelovelove (I’ve seen similar tactics used before – it’s similar to how we set S.M.A.R.T goals!).

In making our to-do lists, it’s smarter to work similarly to how we set smart goals – working backwards from the end result we want, with as much specificity as possible. What’s the actual end result that needs to happen? This list needs to be full of legit RESULTS that should be accomplished by the time you’re going to cross it off the list. Meaning, there should be some sort of tangible, actual *thing* to show for your work at the end. This should help indicate whether or not you’re prioritizing rightly, too, since anything that brings you closer to your bigger goals + dreams SHOULD be quantifiable in some way/shape/form! Otherwise, you may just be throwing busy work onto your list, because you like how it feels to cross things off (guilty).

Feeling productive doesn’t always mean you’re being productive.

So, in editing our former to-do’s, let’s say you’ve got friends coming over. “Clean house” just became “vaccuum the living room, wipe the kitchen counters, wash the dishes in the sink, clean the toilets, do the guest room sheets, dust the picture frames, put fresh flowers on the kitchen table.” Now we’re talkin’, and we know exactly what we need to do in order to be able to throw down a checkmark.

  • Do laundry = Wash three loads of laundry (whites, darks, delicates), Put towels + sheets in dryer
  • Call friends to catch up = Call Ally on my drive home, text Amanda to schedule a date, Facetime Danielle before The Bachelor
  • Answer emails = Get through 25 emails; make sure to respond to Susan and Jeff, and send a pitch to Karen

A key here: Minimize what’s actually going on your list. I’m guilty of this basically ALL THE TIME, thinking I’m freaking Superwoman or Beyonce and filling every line of my planner in with something to-do. And dude…it just ain’t gonna happen! It’s impossible.

So it’s imperative to assign tasks their correct time allotment when you’re scheduling everything out for the week.

Your inbox…that can be a doozy for some folks. If you’re connected to Gmail 24/7, time to get real about how much time you actually need to be in there sending/responding to emails, versus how much is wasted hitting the “refresh inbox” button. And on the flip side – should you be spending MORE time sending more thoughtful, quality notes to folks, or answering in a more timely manner? (Guilty). Your inbox may take 20 minutes to comb through, or it may take two hours. Either way, account for it accordingly!

Now, you’ve got a much clearer picture of what *exactly* needs to result by the end of the day, and you can better work backwards to make sure you get there!


The third list: What’s DONE?

This is a new one I’ve thought about adding to my own list-making for quite some time now, and when I caught myself being unproductive last week, I pushed myself over the edge. Ha!

Once your tasks have gone through stages one + two (so, the to-do and the results), they’re presumably DONE – woo! Add them to a third list: the DONE list. This list starts out totally blank at the start of the day, and is filled as the day goes on. Of course, its length is dependent on how many things you get done, and hopefully fueled most by what you NEED to get done. If you accomplish two tasks only, but they’re doozies – that’s A-OK. Put ’em on the DONE list, and feel good.

This helps me keep track of actual progress + ensure that I’m a.) actually doing things, and b.) actually doing things that I mean to be doing. It’s also a great way to see how much time certain tasks truly take, compared to what you might’ve originally allocated for them! For example, start the clock when you hop on email. Do yo’ thaaaaang. When you feel “done” in your inbox, stop the timer. First, check out how much time actually elapsed, versus how much time you thought your inbox would take that day. Then, think – did anything else pop up while you were supposed to just be in Gmail? Did you hop on Facebook at all, or check a phone notification? Because that’s time that could be subtracted, since you obviuosly weren’t sending important work emails while simultaneously updating your Facebook status. 😉

How can these 3 types of to-do lists boost your productivity this week?

Do you already create some variations of any of them? What works for you? Let me know in a comment below!

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