6 most common To-Do List mistakes [+ Crucial Bonus Tip!]

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Productivity industry swears on the to-do lists, doesn’t it? Even though there are many studies that back up it’s scientific effect, my experience was different.

I even came to a conclusion that people who use to-lists on everyday basis and claim to get successful results are just embellishing.

Because whenever I used it, I felt demotivated and procrastinated even more. Finishing half the tasks on the felt like a burden to me.

I have always been inspired by people like Ruby Granger [Not sponsored] but it was difficult to believe that she was able to get most things done by creating to-do lists and planners.

Until I realized that I was doing it all wrong!

The basic principle that you need to understand about To-Do lists is that, To-Do lists are meant to keep our mind free from the worry of unfinished work.

They are not supposed to make you feel overwhelmed or guilty. Instead, they are a source of internal motivation that pushes us forward.

So, if you find yourself at the list’s mercy, then chances are, you are doing something wrong. Keeping this key principle in mind, prepare your to-do list a night before, so that you wake up with an aim in the mind.

Moving on, here are the 7 most common mistakes to avoid while making To-Do lists. Also, There’s a crucial bonus tip at the very end, don’t miss it! 😉

Too many items on the list

having too many items on the list

Listing down too many tasks is by far the most common and terrible mistake that is made.

To-do lists are supposed to keep our mind free from the worry of unfinished tasks. Having too many items on the list can make a person overwhelmed, destroying the very purpose of creating the list.

The world makes us believe that the busier we are, the better our life is/will be. And to be frank, on a superficial level, it does seem true because every successful person out there is crowded with appointments.

However, when you dive in deeper, you realize that it’s the art of prioritizing and time-management that drives them more and more success.

A golden rule that you should learn and always practice is, saying more NO and less YES. Don’t take more than you can handle.

However, If the situation demands your attention and you have other important things to get done, try to assign the task to someone else.

Not setting deadlines

Not setting deadlines

Remember when you were asked to write a 2000 words article but you couldn’t give it a proper finishing because you almost missed the deadline?

Setting deadlines is crucial to productivity because when you don’t, you give yourself the opportunity to procrastinate more. Here are some quick time-management tricks for you,

  • Set an approximate time-limit for each and every task.
  • Use productivity techniques such as – Pomodoro Technique, 1-3-5 rule and Pareto (80/20) rule.
  • Try to delegate less important, yet urgent tasks.
  • And most Importantly! Don’t be a perfectionist.

Pro tip: Time-box your task instead of scheduling it. You can learn more about it here.

But, hey!
Setting deadlines isn’t enough because it is only effective when you learn to Prioritize.

If you fail to prioritize, then your to-do list will never really benefit you and make you overwhelmed.

Not Prioritizing: Focus on things that are Urgent + Important

Not prioritizing appropriately

If you have an article due on one day and an exam due the next day, which one would you choose to prioritize?

According to a study, Most people end up prioritizing tasks based merely on deadlines. So, usually the task with shortest deadline gets the highest priority.

Probably, you will try to finish the article as soon as you can and study for the exam later on. This is both time-consuming and tedious.

But a smart person would instead choose to delegate the article-writing-part to someone they trust. Perhaps to a freelancer or an experienced team worker.

This way of organizing is done by Eisenhower Matrix, where you organize tasks based on the urgency and importance.

I often use this method because let’s be real, prioritizing can be puzzling at times!

Eisenhower Matrix on Julie Writes

It’s natural to be hesitant to delegate the work to someone else because……well…..they aren’t you, right!

I can relate with you but understand that you always have the power to be selective in your decision making.

If it’s a freelancer, read the reviews and talk with the person. If it’s a person from your team, observe how responsible and committed they are towards their work.

Bottom line is, Assign the task to someone who feels genuinely trust-worthy.

Stuffing every task in one single list

Stuffing all the task in the same list

Why crowd up one list when you can have multiple!
Multiple list???…well….How about I get done with the first list?

Well, If you are new to using productivity tricks, then this might have come of as a surprise for you, I know. But, Organizing your tasks into different lists would be the best thing that you will ever do.

I would personally suggest you to have the following 3 to-do lists,

  • Master To-Do List: Whether it be learning a new language, preparing for competitive exam or planning an E-Book, they all come under this list. Later, divide each task into smaller sections and add them to your weekly to-do list.
  • Weekly To-Do List: As you must have easily guessed, this list contains the tasks that I need to get done within 7 days. The smaller sections that I was talking about is added to this list. Say, Creating an outline for the E-Book.
  • Daily To-Do List: Finally, I size down to my daily to-do list which includes the smaller portions of my weekly targets. Say, the number points I need to write on.

Not starting with Important and Urgent tasks

Not starting with important and urgent tasks

Does the order of the list really matter?
Let me ask you a question first.

There are 2 glass of water. One of them is empty and the other one is half filled. Start pouring the water. Which one gets filled immediately?

The half filled glass, ofcourse!

This is what happens with our mind as well. As the day goes by, our ability to get distracted increases and as our will-power meter is depleted due to all the decision-making on that day we more likely to procrastinate.

Can you imagine being tired and having to do difficult sums? I’d rather procrastinate than put myself through that pain!

Being open to Distractions

Being open to Distractions

I always say this, and I’ll say it again, Distraction is a Choice and you can overcome it. However, to what extend you control it, depends on your will-power.

As I mentioned above, we are more likely to get distracted when we are tired. So, if you are studying at the night, it’s better to get a quick nap before you start.

Also, the most efficient way of avoiding distraction is setting a time session at your study place.

Our brain likes to associate things with particular experiences. Remember feeling nostalgic when you hear old songs? Yeah, That’s what I am talking about.

So, Set a place to study/work, utilize the area only for studying. So that whenever you sit the work, your brain will be indicated that you are only suppose to study/work in that place. No other business.

Even if you are taking a break, avoid sitting in that place. Otherwise it will confuse your brain. The same goes for the Bed, avoid sleeping and working at the same place. I know it’s cozy and all, but it’s a big NO.

Most Crucial – Regretting and getting anxious because of unfinished tasks

Regretting and getting anxious because of unfinished tasks

Not being able to complete the list is bad, but the pain of regret of leaving the tasks unfinished is even worse.

Somedays we simply cannot complete the tasks that we decided to do. Perhaps out of laziness or other major responsibilities. We have all been there!

Either way, there’s nothing you can do to change the past. You can’t even change the present, the only thing that can be changed is ‘future’ by working on the present.

If you are still reading this, then I know that you reallyyyyyyy want to be successful and here’s a thing – an important part of success is self-love.

Many people have a misconception that Self-love is about being selfish and and self-absorbed [If you think that way, I would highly recommend you to read the post on attachment style].

When in reality, It’s about loving, and improving our each and every aspect – both mentally and physically.

In fact, the greatest form of self-care is learning to forgive and letting go. You learn the lesson but you don’t hold grudges.

Same goes for the to-do list. What matters is not the small picture but the bigger one; what matters is your ultimate goal.

If it makes you anxious, you can manage your anxiety by first listening to a good guided meditation and then Journaling. Favorite Meditation suggestion: Lavendaire’s guided meditation (on Youtube)


In a Nutshell

  • Listing too many items destroys the very purpose of creating a to-do list, that is, to keep the mind clutter free.
  • Setting deadlines is crucial to productivity because when you don’t, you are giving yourself the opportunity to procrastinate more.
  • Focus on things that are urgent and important. Try to delegate more.
  • Have a separate list for yearly, weekly and daily goals.
  • Distraction is a choice that you can overcome. Stick to the same time and place to study or work.
  • When you don’t find it difficult to overcome the regret of leaving a to-do list unfinished, listen to a guided meditation and journal.