7 Secrets for Making To Do Lists and Actually Getting Stuff Done

Are You Suffering From Too Many To-Dos? 

We get you. Thinking about how and when we will accomplish the seemingly unending tasks in our life can be overwhelming. Most of us don’t know where to start and as a result, pressure mounts, mistakes are made, deadlines are missed….you get the picture. 

But that doesn’t have to be you anymore. 

In today’s post we are revealing the 7 secrets for making the most of your to do lists so you can:

  • Own each day
  • Crush your goals
  • AND take back control of your life

Embedded in each of the 7 Secrets are tips on how you can build the necessary momentum for actually doing the to-dos.

The To-Dos and NOT To-Dos

When it comes to organizing life, most of us fit into one of two categories –- “To-Do Listers” and NOT “To-Do Listers.”

To be fair, when referring to those who identify as NOT “To-Do Listers”, we recognize that you are more likely to fall into the category of occasionalists than extremists. 

 Occasionalists write to-do lists when necessary, and from what we have observed, only when in way over their heads. Sure they cross out a few things, but rarely do they go back and make certain it is completed. Needless to say, they don’t typically get a whole lot done. 

But whether you just scribble it and forget it - or you’d die without your lists - there are secrets we have discovered to build on both methods.  

There’s always an app for that… 

This one’s actually no secret at all. And if you came here hoping we would recommend the one app that solves all your organizational dilemmas, we are sorry but perhaps we can review some in a later post. 

Instead, we are here to show you the actual process of making a to-do list and making it in a way that works for you. We want to give you the secrets for developing a habit and a system. This is foundational.

And there are two missing process elements that relying solely on tech can often overlook: 

  1. A best first practice is to jot down everything on your mind that is competing for your attention. This acts to “clear” and prime your brain for focus and executive functioning. We recommend going all in on getting it all out. 
  2. The neurophysiological benefits of hand-writing as you’re streaming your consciousness onto a page tends to create a more solid connection between your mind and body than keyboarding can. 

Whether or not you choose tech to organize your to-dos is up to you. But, as we are about to share with you, the 7 Secrets for Making To Do Lists And Actually Getting Stuff Done have nothing to do with which app you choose, and everything to do with your own internal processor. 

So let’s get down to it.

Secret #1 DO… Brain-dump

Have you ever thought about sending someone a happy birthday message a day before their actual birthday? You probably believed that such a momentous date would be unforgettable, commanding your attention upon waking at which time you would certainly be the first of their friends to text. You may even be congratulating yourself for thinking of it a day ahead of time. 

Go you! You’re so on top of it this year. 

Then as you’re casually checking your facebook notifications 2 days later you realize you have missed it completely…. 

Depending on your level of friendship, this may or may not constitute a big deal, but the point is that tasks on par with sending a happy birthday text often get overlooked when it comes to writing a formal to-do list. 

When tasks are stuck swirling in the brain domain, there is no telling when they will circle back. Which is why we recommend writing down everything you can possibly think of that you want to get done this week, and be sure to include things that have been looming in the background for longer than you’re proud to admit.   

Since brain-mess causes stress, the #1 Secret to-do is to get it out. 

Secret #2 DON’T… Stop There

Think of it like cleaning out your closet, once you’ve cleared the clutter, and dumped it onto the floor, you wouldn’t just walk away and start a shopping list would you? I mean, you could…but you would have to keep walking around the pile (or try to ignore it) and that is not going to make it any smaller. 

The point of clearing is to create space. Not transfer stuff from one locale to another. Gazing into your closet may feel great at this point, but the mess will eventually need to be dealt with.

Secret # 2 is about immediately leveraging the sense of satisfaction and clarity gained from decluttering your mental space, and transferring the freed up energy toward organizing your to-dos. 

Grouping things into categories stimulates the reward centers in your brain to release dopamine- the “feel good” hormone. This means that taking the time now to organize will be rewarded immediately AND will motivate you to continue tackling your to-dos.

Secret #3 DO Categorize

Now that you’re dialed into the closet analogy, let’s imagine you have 6-10 clear totes laid out in front of you, each labeled to assist you in your sorting endeavor. Once in place, you can rip through your pile (list) and assign each item (task) a home. 

If this is the first time you’re cleaning your closet, there is no need to get tripped up in naming your totes. Keep it simple like having one tote for exercise, one for shoes, one for coats, etc.

This is not the stage to concern yourself with whether the shoes are for exercise versus happy hour. Just shoes for now, okay? Stay with us…

When it comes to categorizing to-dos, here is a sample list you may want to try:

  • Home
  • Lifestyle
  • Career
  • Health/Wellness
  • Family
  • Finance
  • Personal

To remove the guesswork, we created a functional list of categories that are pre-templated in our GSD Planner so that each of your tasks have a home and you have plenty of excess room for notes.

Secret #4 DON’T Prioritize Categories

It’s at this stage where many will be so amped to get going, they hastily dive into one category based solely on its perceived value. But the risk here is that expending all of our energy in one area often comes at the expense of others - especially if we do this day after day. 

 If your career is most important to you, and tasks related to your career always come first (not to say it can’t take priority). Then, what comes last? Your kids? Your Spouse? Yourself?

Prioritizing tasks is crucial, but prioritizing entire categories can be detrimental. 

Your total well-being is important, and a holistic approach to success is truly the secret to playing the long game. 

The GSD planner was created with this in mind; keeping you focused on all the areas you find valuable and including tips to help you remain balanced and grounded in each. 

Secret #5 DO Prioritize Tasks

Not everything on your list is high priority… even if it feels like it.  

According to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 principle, 80% of your accomplishments can be accredited to 20% of the work you put in. 

How does this apply to your to-dos? 

Most people naively aim to hit 100% of their daily tasks on a 1-to-1 ratio. While this method may work for a 1-off “Get Shit Done” kind of day, it is unrealistic and unsustainable; not to mention ineffective at producing large-scale change over time. 

The problem is that these people view the list as their goal, instead of using the list to achieve the goal(s).

Successful people target the 20% of daily tasks that actually move the needle and allow the remaining 80% to fall into lower priority brackets where they can be pushed to a later time or delegated.

Hint: The to-dos that align with your goals are your high-priority tasks...

And since our planner prompts you to write goals across categories, you will be naturally inclined to knock out the tasks in each and every area that matters.  

Secret #6 DON'T MISS A MORNING

Morning routines are a MUST in our opinion, even if you’re not a morning person. But whether your morning starts at 5 am or 8 am is of little significance as long as you can identify when you’re most productive. 

Ultradian rhythms suggest that we each experience a rise, peak, fall and trough in mental energy over 90-120 minute intervals. Assuming this timer starts in tandem with your alarm, you’ll theoretically be poised for doing your best work 45-60 minutes after waking. 

These rhythms rise and fall throughout the day, so if you miss the first spike, it’s not technically the end of the world. 

But the secret to consistently hitting the mark is to combine high levels of internal focus with low levels of external distractions, which is easiest in the morning. 

In Gary Keller’s book The One Thing, he describes a domino effect when it comes to knocking down your to-dos.  


(Photo by Bradyn Trollip on Unsplash)

By prompting readers to ask themselves: 

“What is the ONE THING that you can do that just by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” 

Keller further drives home the point that tasks ought to be prioritized by their level of impact. 

But, if knocking down the first domino creates a cascade of momentum, we also want to get a jump on our ONE THING - THE top priority on our list - early in the day when we’re at our best. 

Peak mental performance translates to optimal efficiency - especially when habituated over time. Routines are created by stacking habits and habits are formed via repetition. 

The secret is to start getting up early and repping out the steps to your success. 

Secret #7 DO Give Yourself Credit

It’s generally acceptable to get on board with celebrating big wins like finishing your manuscript or making your first high-ticket sale. It feels damn rewarding to complete what once felt like a monumental task, but we can guarantee you didn’t get there without completing a series of small daily tasks that finally added up. 

Are we suggesting you celebrate each small step along the way? The answer is yes

Particularly in the beginning. 

We are wired for instant and near-term gratification. This doesn’t mean we can’t be motivated over the long haul, but it does mean that human will-power is not designed for endurance. So whether our “job well done” constitutes a pat-on-the-back or pedicure - we must fuel up with regular rewards. 

As discussed previously, the reward hormone dopamine is a potent and powerful energizer; so if you’re feeling stuck in a rut- take a time out to reflect on just how much you accomplished in the course of the day, the week, the months and the years!

And since celebrating your success is at the top of our priority list, we have you pre-plan your rewards on your goal sheets. The GSD planner also prompts you to acknowledge your wins on each daily log.

All-in-all, the 7 Secrets for Making To Do Lists and Actually Getting Stuff Done is a mixture of DO’s and DON'Ts. Learning from our mistakes inspires us to help others avoid the unnecessary barriers to getting stuff done.

Our easy to follow planner is expertly designed for those who want more than to simply survive the days, but to thrive for years to come.  

Don’t let the to-do list be the to-do that is holding you back from your success.