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How to level up your lists: Taking to do lists from antiquated to amazing

Reading time: about 6 min

Long before you implemented scheduling software or used virtual calendaring, you probably relied on a written schedule to remember all the tasks you needed to complete. Now, with countless tools to help you stay organized, it’s easy to discount the classic to do list. They’re often considered too basic to be effective. And don’t get us wrong—not all to do lists are created equal. When they’re unorganized, unrealistic, and oversimplified, they aren’t likely to be that helpful. 

But the best to do lists can set you up for success just as much—if not more—than an expensive alternate solution. As long as you approach your list proactively, you’ll set the tone for success.

What’s a to do list?

A to do list is simply a list of things you need to do. To do lists are regularly used both for professional tasks (completing a training, turning in a form, or making a phone call) and personal tasks (picking up the dry cleaning, buying milk from the grocery store, or paying a bill). To do lists can boost your memory, increase your productivity, improve time management, and more efficiently measure progress.

In short, to-do lists are simple enough in principle that they can really be anything you need them to be. They ensure you don’t forget important tasks, appointments, or obligations. 

Tips for a killer to do list

Merely writing down things you need to do doesn’t make your list effective. Luckily, we have some tips to help ensure your to do list is as effective as it can be.

  1. Use online tools

While to do lists can be made by hand, if you haven’t tried using an online tool, you should consider it. Online tools offer functionality that make the organization of your tasks simpler and easier to manage. Plus, you won’t have to worry about leaving your list at home or accidentally damaging it. There are a variety of apps for this, like Todoist or Asana, a work management application. Each app has its own features, so make sure to explore several before deciding on the right one for you.

  1. Prioritize projects

To do lists often grow longer as new ideas arise, but they’re the most efficient when they’re ranked in order of importance. When items on your list aren’t prioritized, it’s easy to accidentally overlook something that is urgent. It also becomes more time-consuming, because you constantly have to search throughout the entirety of the list to determine what needs to be done next. However, if you rank items appropriately, all you need to do is move down the list, task by task. The list becomes a lot easier to work through so you have a better chance of success.

Lucidspark, a virtual collaboration whiteboarding application, offers several free templates that can help you visually organize your to do list. For example, the MoSCoW prioritization template helps you strategically prioritize initiatives. The Eisenhower matrix is another template that guides you in visually organizing tasks based on urgency. These templates can be shared with a partner or team and accessed wherever they work.


to do list example
Try out Lucidspark’s free to do list template. (Click to edit)
  1. Include detail

If you really want your list to work for you, writing down a couple of key words isn’t enough. You may assume you’ll remember all the details of the task, but the more items on the list, the less you are to remember the particulars. And if you return to a list and cannot remember the context of a task, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and give up before you even start.

Instead of leaving it up to chance, try to get as specific as possible. Include any relevant information that will make the task easier,  including helpful resources. Taking the time to make a plan in advance will remote the guesswork from your action steps. 

Plus, breaking down large tasks into smaller items will make the list much more approachable as a whole. Just like they say—you can’t eat an elephant in a single bite.

  1. Assign deadlines and estimate times

While you’re adding detail to each item, take it a step further and estimate the amount of time each task will take. Even if it’s a total guess, time estimations are an important part of the mental preparation it takes to start a task that may be particularly difficult or mundane. 

Our tip? Overestimate as much as you can. That way, you’re less likely to get behind and more likely to experience a win. Let yourself feel pleasantly surprised you finished a task early instead of feeling frustrated that something is taking too long.

After you’ve estimated times, assign deadlines. Some items may be more flexible in timing than others, but even a soft deadline will help hold you accountable. Seeing a list of things and knowing when you could have them done is motivating and it makes taking the first step a lot easier.

  1. Stay on track

Once you’ve written your list, don’t set in a drawer (literally or figuratively) and forget about it. Keep checking it! If you have a to do list you’re actively tackling, look over it at least once every day. Review items, add any more details you have, and revise estimated deadlines. Compare the timeline of the list with your daily schedule and make sure everything is aligned to complete your goals on time.

To do lists should be malleable. If you don’t allow for some flexibility, a missed deadline is more likely to feel frustrating and overwhelming, and your chances of giving up increase. Instead, trust in the process, make updates as needed, and don’t give up until you’re successful.

Feel free to share your list with a colleague or friend to help keep you accountable. If you’re working on tasks in professional setting, check in with a manager regularly and let them know your progress, especially on bigger tasks. 

  1. Celebrate wins

Once you’ve completed an item on your list, let yourself enjoy the moment! Try to resist the temptation to quickly jump to the next task in line just finish the list as quickly as possible. Relish in that all-too-amazing feeling that comes with figuratively (or literally!) checking off a box! You probably encounter a significant amount of distraction in your day-to-day life, so feel proud of yourself for accomplishing something you’ve been working toward.

Improve your to do lists

It doesn’t matter if to do lists are a large part of your strategic planning or a small, helpful way to stay on top of day-to-day tasks—a solid list will help boost your productivity and stay ahead of your work. 

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About Lucidspark

Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit

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