January 5, 2016  

Dominate Your To-Do List With This Time-Saving System {+ printable daily to-do list}

One of my favorite parts of each week is sitting down at my desk on Monday morning and making my daily to-do list. Do you look forward to making yours? And do you end each day feeling like you used your time efficiently to dominate that list?

I know, I know. I’ve totally revealed just how incredibly nerdy I get when it comes to making lists. Whether you are a fellow list maker or someone who isn’t totally sold on the idea, give me a chance to tell you about my to-do list system and you can decide if it may be something worth trying for yourself.

This post is part of the month-long Resolve To Get Organized series, where we’re chatting all about settings goals, organizing our homes, and organizing our lives. I’m loving the chance to share organizing advice and systems that work for me, and I’m learning some great tips from you, too! Today, we’re going to talk all about daily to-do lists, and the next post in this series will be about organizing your entire week into project blocks in order to up your productivity game.

I have been on a major kick to overhaul my daily to-do list system lately.

1) I wanted to be more intentional about organizing my day.
2) I wanted to maximize my productivity while saving time.
3) I needed an organized, efficient to-do list system.

I’m the type of person that loves systematizing things and making tweaks until I get it just right. Way back early last fall, I decided to completely overhaul my to-do list process, and today I’m reporting in on my new system and how it’s been working for me after a few months of fine tuning. I ended up with a system that involves a mix of digital tools and paper lists, and it is working splendidly.

I always find it helpful to hear how other people organize their lists, so I hope a few of the things I say will trigger an idea in you for making your lists more organized.

Now, let’s dive into the details.

Great way to organize my daily to-do list without going crazy! Love this printable

Crush Your Week Promo Bar

An In-Depth Look At My List-Making System

I poured every detail I could think of into this post to make it a comprehensive look at how I manage my lists in hopes that it will be helpful to you. It may seem a bit overwhelming right away, but I promise you it’s not as complicated as it looks. I do want to note that my list-making process tends to ebb and flow over time. It’s been a while since I really felt like I had a great list-making process, and I feel like I’ve finally nailed it down. I’m sure I’ll continue to adjust and change my process over time, but it’s working extremely well for me right now.

I follow this process to a ‘T’ at my marketing job. I have a huge variety of responsibilities and endless things to do (pretty typical of working for a non-profit), and this process helps me keep track of everything and make sure I’m devoting time to each area of my job. I also use this same process at home. Since I have a lot going on, my time to do general household things can be quite limited some weeks, and this system has helped me prioritize what gets done when. Here’s how it works:

Add Everything To A Master List

I keep a massive, master to-do list in Evernote. My to-do list for work is stored in one note, organized by categories in bold type. For example, I list “Marketing” in bold and I add all marketing tasks as a checklist underneath that heading. I have another note set up for my personal life, with categories like “Cleaning” and “Errands”. You might only need one note for all of your list or, like me, you may find it more helpful to divide your list into a couple notes. I also have a separate note for all of my blogging to-dos, for instance. It’s totally up to you how to organize this master list. Here’s an idea of what mine looks like:

Evernote To-Do List Example

Every single task that crosses my mind during the day is immediately added to the correct category of my list in Evernote. Evernote is a great tool for this because it is simple to use, and it syncs across devices so I can access it anytime I think of something that needs to get done. This ensures that all of my to-dos are in one place rather than scribbled on post-its all over my office and house. It’s perfect for typing quick thoughts into my list so I know I won’t forget, allowing me to continue working on my current project. Without a master list, I all too often find myself jumping from task to task as I think of things, without fully completing any of them.

I add tasks to my master list all the time. Little things that cross my mind during the day, to-dos from meetings, things related to upcoming events, and, most importantly, items that move me closer to my goals. I aim to review my goals at least once per month, adding a few tasks to my master list that will help me reach those goals by the end of the year. If you want to learn more about how I set goals, I blogged all about my goal setting process last week.

Keep Your Focus With A Daily List

As much as I love digital list-making tools like Evernote and calendar tools like Google Calendar, I’ve found that a paper checklist works best for my daily to-do list. I get insane pleasure out of crossing things off my list with a colorful pen. Plus, the act of writing down my tasks for the week works wonders for me.

In my quest to keep myself focused and to be my most productive self each day, I designed a one-page daily to-do list. I’ve been using it for the past several months now, modifying it from time to time to get it just right. It’s currently working really well for me, and I’m sharing two versions with you today. One has a section to write in any meetings or appointments, while the other has a larger section for actually time blocking your day hour by hour. You can choose which layout works best for you. I use the time blocking one and will be focusing on it in this post, but the other works just the same, it’s just a slightly different format.

You can click the photo below to download your printable daily to-do lists:

Great way to organize my daily to-do list without going crazy! Love this printable

Crush Your Week Promo Bar

First of all, let me quickly tell you why I prefer this paper daily to-do list as opposed to just working off of my master list stored in Evernote:

  1. My master list is waaaaay too overwhelming to look at all the time. I used to do that, but I often found myself paralyzed by the massive list. It was difficult to prioritize things, and I overwhelmed myself to the point where I wouldn’t get anything done.
  2. Creating my daily to-do lists makes me slow down and intentionally plan out my day.
  3. The time blocking part of my daily to-do list forces me to be realistic about how much I can accomplish in one day. (I’m always overly optimistic!)
  4. It is so satisfying to have a paper list to check off as I go about my day. And it’s a great feeling to be able to finish my list at the end of the day and then toss it in the recycling bin. On the contrary, my Evernote list is never finished because I’m constantly adding to it.

Now, let me walk you through how I organize my daily to-do lists on Monday mornings to set myself up for a successful and productive week.

I try to leave my Monday morning schedule open so that when I get to my office, I can jump straight into list-making. I make lists for every day of the week on Monday. To get started, I print off copies of the printable list for every day of the week and then write in the day at the top. I actually use two copies of this list most days: one for work, and one for everything else. I like the mental separation of having one list I can leave at the office and another for at home. You could certainly use just one list, it’s up to you.

Write In Time-Sensitive Obligations

I first consult my Google Calendar, where I keep track off all of my meetings, appointments and other obligations. I use the time blocking section of my to-do list to map out any time-specific tasks for the day. I go through my calendar for the whole week and fill in my schedule for each day. This helps me get a sense of what’s in store for the week and shows me how much time I have left to accomplish things on my master list.

Assign Tasks To Each Day

Once my time-sensitive obligations are all written in, I consult my master list in Evernote and start adding the most urgent or most important tasks to my daily lists.

This printable to-do list has two sections for tasks: “Urgent Stuff” and “Small Stuff”. Any big projects that will take more than 20 minutes to do and any projects with pressing deadlines get put on the Urgent Stuff list. The Small Stuff list is for all the little things, like sending a quick email or running an errand. They are things that don’t take long, but that I don’t want to forget. Things

Assign Each Task To A Block Of Time

The last step is to block out specific time to accomplish each task on my daily to-do list. I usually save this step to be completed first thing each morning rather than doing it all on Monday. This allows some flexibility for me to adjust my task lists as the week progresses.

The time blocking section really forces me to be more realistic with my time. I am notorious for making ambitious lists and then only being able to get half of it done. So I’ve recently been assigning everything a specific time in my day, and it has helped me tremendously.

I write in “Small Stuff” for an hour or two most days. It’s easy to crank out quite a few of these in an hour, and when I get to that point in my day I set a timer on my phone and just start crossing things off that list as fast as I can. It makes for a fun game ;).

Dominate Your List

Now that your list is made, it’s time to dominate it! At the end of the day, I transfer any undone tasks onto another list later in the week before discarding my daily list. At the end of the week, I update my master list by deleting the tasks that have been completed.

Crush Your Week Promo Bar

Well, there you have it! You’ll be off and running toward an efficient, time-saving to-do list process in no time. Once your master list is set up, you’ll be able to quickly plan out your daily tasks. No more staring at the wall trying to remember what needs to get done, and no more letting things fall through the cracks. Be diligent about recording everything in your master list, and you’ll be well on your way to list-making success. The next post in this series will be all about how I time block my week by project/responsibility, helping me hone in my focus even more.

Does this system seem like something that would help you more efficiently plan your day? How do you keep track of your to-dos? Leave me a comment!

Other Posts In This Series

Introduction: Resolve To Get Organized

Part 1: Setting Goals & Designing a Road Map to Crush Them

Part 2: Dominate Your To-Do List With This Time-Saving System – you’re here!

Part 3: How I Organize My Week for Maximum Productivity & Focus

Part 4: 7 Steps to Ruthlessly Organize Your Email

Part 5: How to Organize Your Mail to Eliminate Paper Clutter

Part 6: 13 Practical Habits That Will Keep Your Home Organized

Part 7: Organize Like a Pro With Free Printable Storage Labels

Part 8: How to Organize Any Space in 7 Steps

Conclusion: 6 Warning Signs Your Organizing Attempts Will Backfire


Ready to crush your week?

If you are ready to be more intentional with your time, than you do not want to miss out on my eBook, Crush Your Week: The Complete Guide To Designing An Intentional Weekly RoutineIt includes actionable strategies and worksheets to guide you through the entire routine creation process.

This book is designed to help you find time for all of your commitments and responsibilities as well as your big goals. Consider it an action guide rather than your average book. You will come away with a tangible routine you can put into practice immediately.


Struggling with time management? Organize your schedule with Crush Your Week: The Complete Guide To Designing An Intentional Weekly Routine. This isn't simply an ebook, but an action guide packed with practical advice and helpful worksheets.

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About the author

Emily Counts is the founder of Small Stuff Counts, a home and organization blog she created in 2013. Her goal is to help moms make home life easier so they can create beautiful, organized, and thriving homes. She shares life at home as a mom juggling two young kids and being a working mom with a corporate job. The Iowa-based blogger lives in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two children, and rescue dog. Emily has collaborated with brands including The Container Store, Cricut, Command Brand, Bissell, Sam's Club and Rubbermaid.

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  1. Emily!
    This is probably my favorite post you’ve ever posted! I am totally going to try out this method, I feel like it may finally be the answer to my endless search of the perfect way of keeping track of everything. I’ve heard so many great things about Evernote but feel daunted by it. I would love to see an Evernote blog post!

    Thanks for coming up with a solution that incorporates the convenience of technology while also focuses on the value of actually writing things down with pen and paper daily. Can’t wait to put it into action. Thank you!!

    1. Amanda, this comment made my entire week! I’m so glad you liked this post. I am planning some more posts that show ways I use Evernote, so stay tuned… I love both technology and paper, so this has seemed like a great balance of the two things for me. Let me know how it works for you!

  2. I loved taking a look into your process! I’ve been struggling with finding what works for me. Digital vs paper but this… this could work for me! Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you found it interesting! I have a fondness for paper but also love digital tools, so this has been a nice balance for me. Try it out and let me know how it’s working for you!

    1. Glad you figured it out! The little check boxes are so fun – I use them for my grocery lists and it’s nice to check them on my phone as I’m at the grocery store.

  3. Love this! I am a casual Evernote user and you’ve got me thinking about using it for a master to-do list. I have papers laying all around….can’t seem to kick it. Thanks for a great article and great series!

    1. You should totally dive into Evernote some more! I really ought to write some more posts about how I use Evernote, because I use it for just about everything. It’s a handy tool! I love paper, but it’s nice to stay organized with something digital that I can access from anywhere. I’m so grateful you stopped by. Wishing you list-making success!

    1. The check boxes really look like that! If you click on the bullet point tool like you’re going to insert regular bullet points, then there are some other options besides the standard circles. My favorite options are these little boxes because they’re interactive, meaning I can actually tap the box and it will add a check mark to it. Hope that helps! Let me know if that doesn’t make sense. I use the check boxes all the time in my lists!

  4. I’m obsessed with lists and these are great! To Do Lists makes things go so much faster as you get excited to check them off. Thank you!

    1. Glad to someone as obsessed with lists as I am, Kristin! One of the small things that makes me so happy is when I get to check something else off my list. It’s such a victory! I hope you find the printable daily list helpful! Thanks for stopping by today, I really appreciate you reading this post.

  5. Hi Emily! What a GREAT post. I have struggled for longer than I care to admit with figuring out a balance between digital and paper for planning (so. Many. Great. Options. :)) and also with where to store all of the “to do’s” that literally pop in to my head randomly, or that I learn or discover on-line or in conversations with others. I really need to have a “brain dump” spot for a master list so that I don’t forget stuff! I haven’t learned Evernote yet, so I’ll use the Priorities app for my master list. Can’t wait to give this a try!

    1. Kimm, I’m so glad you found some helpful ideas in this post! That’s exactly what I was hoping would happen. I’m a huge paper lover as well, but it’s just so much more practical for me to keep my master list digitally so I always have it with me. I haven’t tried the Priorities app yet, but I’m going to check it out. Evernote has a lot of uses, but it’s super simple to get started with a basic checklist like I use. Give it a try sometime if you need a new tool! Best wishes on your list-making endeavors. Thanks so much for visiting!

    1. Aww, thanks so much! I hope you go away with at least one idea of something you can do to improve your list-making process. Happy list-making!

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