Today's Task List: List of daily tasks, with a column for the time needed to complete the task, the priority (high, medium, or low), and a place to put a checkmark when the tasks are completed
Image Credit: Rawia Inaim

Creating a To Do List

Some people are adverse to scheduling. There are a multitude of excuses that keep people from creating schedules, but most fall in to the category of “too much work” or “too formal for my style.” Even for the most schedule-challenged individual, there is a way to get easily started with scheduling. It called a “To Do List,” the simplest form of scheduling. It’s simply a list of things to do in any given day.

Creating a daily to-do list can prioritize your tasks.  You may wish to use a paper planner for your lists, or track your tasks on your smartphone.  Do what works best for you.  Here are some principles to consider as you create your to-do list:

  1. At the end of each day’s work, take a few minutes to plan the following day.
  2. Write down each task you hope to accomplish. Indicate which tasks are the highest priority.
  3. Break large tasks into smaller units.  Consider what you will accomplish in one work period (usually about one hour before taking a break).  Create tasks that are well-defined; you should know when the task is finished.  For example, “work on research paper” does not have a clear goal.  By changing this to “find three academic articles for research paper”, or “create research paper outline”, you will be able to clearly see what you need to accomplish.  You will also be able to reward yourself for successful completion.

Check off tasks as you complete them.  This will increase your sense of accomplishment and create forward momentum.  When you have finished the day’s tasks, celebrate with a well-earned reward.  Move any tasks yet to be completed to tomorrow’s task list.

In summary, the steps to an effective to do list are:

  • List all your tasks (brainstorm everything that needs to be done for the day)
  • Prioritize your tasks (place the most important tasks first or highlight them on the list)
  • Check off tasks as you accomplish them (this creates a psychological affirmation of achievement in your mind)
  • Evaluate your list (at the end of the day go over the list to assess its effectiveness)[1]

Try it!

For the next week, commit to a system for daily to-do lists.  Use a paper planner or an app.  There are many excellent free task management apps available, including Wunderlist (www.wunderlist.com) and Microsoft To-Do (https://todo.microsoft.com/)

After you have implemented your system for one week, re-evaluate.  Continue what works for you, and make any modifications needed.

Extend Your Learning

Want to explore further ways of managing your time? The following links will lead you to more information and helpful templates.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously published in University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, licensed as CC BY-SA.

Adaptions: Added To Do List introduction


  1. Adapted from Ellis, Dave, (2006), Becoming a Master Student, Cengage Learning


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Foundations For Success Copyright © 2020 by David Capriola is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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