Keeping a to-do list is a great way to stay organized – as long as you actually use it.

There are dozens of digital apps and physical planners to help you stay productive.

But what happens when your list is so daunting that it seems like nothing ever gets done?

Writing down your goals for the day does increase the likelihood that you’ll do them. But, you must use your to-do list in an efficient, organized, and consistent manner if you want it to work.

When your to-do list is full of things you don’t want to do, it’s easy to find distractions. Maybe Facebook, Pinterest, or Candy Crush are your black holes. Or, perhaps you are productive, but not spending your time on the right things.

So how do you get motivated to check those tasks off of your to-do list for good?

With these proven methods, you’ll knock those tasks out of the way!

1. Organize Your Lists

Finding an organizational method that works for you is the first – and often hardest – step.

If you type “ways to organize your to-do list” into a search engine, you’ll get millions of results.

It’s like going to Pinterest for DIY craft ideas. Hours later, you’ll stretch, blink, and come out of the vortex you were sucked into, wondering where your day went.

Stephen Covey, author of the bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has a proven method. He suggests using quadrants to divide your daily tasks. This makes managing your time a lot easier.

He recommends that you break your tasks into four sections:

Quadrant I: Urgent and Important

These are tasks that absolutely must get done in a time-sensitive manner. For example, a crucial deadline with high stakes goes here.

Quadrant II: Not Urgent but Important

These tasks aren’t time-sensitive but are still important. Your child’s school event or a friend’s wedding go here. Things that will help you move toward your long-term goals go here as well.

Quadrant III: Urgent but Not Important

The tasks in this category are things that have to get done but won’t add much value to the day. Cleaning the house and answering mundane work emails go here.

Quadrant IV: Not Urgent and Not Important

These are time wasters, such as scrolling through social media and watching TV. You should limit the amount of time you spend doing the items in this quadrant.

2. Keep it Simple

You don’t have to buy a special planner with stickers and dividers to be productive. You can if you want, of course, but it’s not necessary.

Once your list is broken into quadrants, it’s time to take action. Here’s a simple way to figure out what you need to focus on each day:

  1. Grab some assorted colored highlighters. Choose one for your main priorities. Pick another for important things you’d like to do, and a third for tasks that can wait but shouldn’t pile up.
  2. Look at your quadrants and choose the top three goals for the day. Highlight them in your priority color.
  3. Then, choose three more to tackle if you get through your first three, and color code accordingly until your entire list is prioritized.
  4. Move anything that doesn’t get done today to tomorrow’s list, but bump it up in priority.

By breaking your list down into chunks, it becomes more manageable. What was once overwhelming is now in your control.

3. Don’t Multitask


I know, it goes against everything you’ve ever been taught.

But, avoiding the temptation to multitask is crucial if you want to be productive. In fact, research shows that it not only reduces your productivity but can even decrease your intelligence!

Your brain isn’t built to do two things at once. Just ask all of the kids who spent hours trying to pat their heads and rub their bellies at the same time. It’s not possible without focus and training.

For years, studies have analyzed the correlation between multitasking and productivity. Initially, scientists believed that training the brain to multitask would make people smarter. But over time, they realized it decreases intelligence and attention span.

Even worse, just sitting next to a multitasker for long periods can make you less intelligent!

In this world of constant multitasking, it’s hard to avoid doing several things at once. But by focusing on the task at hand, you’ll do things quicker and more thoroughly.

4. Know Your Weaknesses

Do you constantly find yourself scrolling through social media instead of working, with no actual memory of how you got there?

Does one random text from a friend turn into a conversation that could have taken place after work?

Figure out which distractions are your weaknesses. Then, find the tools to fix your habit.

There are many apps that block sites on your phone and computer during certain times of the day. You can set up Freedom, WasteNoTime, or Pause across multiple devices to track your time on specific sites. They can also restrict or limit your ability to access those sites.

Your friends and family can be weaknesses, too. They often want your attention when they are available, even if you aren’t.

Set boundaries and let them know when it’s appropriate to contact you. Tell them that you want to be able to give them your full attention, and you can’t outside those times.

5. Get Accountable

It’s easy to get pulled off track when you’re the one holding yourself accountable. That’s why many successful professionals recommend having an accountability partner.

No matter what industry you work in, you can benefit from having someone check up on you throughout the week. Be sure it’s someone that you will listen to when they attempt to nudge you back on track.

When you find your partner (or a virtual assistant if you don’t have someone in your circle), establish basic guidelines. Decide when you want them to check in and how they should refocus you if you are off schedule. Send them your to-do list every day so they can track your progress.

Above all, listen to their constructive criticism. It will help you keep the momentum going!


Looking around at the world today, it might seem like hustle-and-bustle is the only option.

It’s not.

Life is meant to be enjoyed. You don’t have to spend every minute moving from task to task.

But when you tighten up your work habits and hold yourself accountable, you’ll be able to check more items off your to-do list. Then, you’ll have more time to live life to the fullest!
About the author

Aaron Hunt is the property manager for Prime Place OSU, a student apartment community in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He can be reached by email at