It happens every year like clockwork. Technically, it happens twice a year. Fresh, blank planners hit the market, eager to be purchased and filled in with appointments, to-do lists, and reminders. People who live their lives by planners most likely use an effective to-do list template that is unique to them. And they can use it in either a pre-printed planner or in a bullet journal.
Everyone schedules their days differently. Some can get by with just a bullet-pointed list of to-dos. Others prefer to prioritize and bang out their most important tasks first, often highlighting them or making them the only item on the list.
Whichever way you plan, so long as it works for you, that’s all that matters.
Because planning is so unique, I wanted to share my effective to-do list template. This is the system that amplifies my productivity and gives my daily list some clarity. I’m also sharing how I organize my tasks in these specific lists. At the end of this post, I’ve included an image of how I differentiate these items on my to-do list.
My effective to-do list template is comprised of the following…
#1 — The One Big Task
This is the Holy Grail of tasks. It’s the main item on the agenda. The thing I want to make sure I get done today. If I’m having a lazy down or not feeling 100% I still try and get the One Big Task completed. Mind you, if my brain cannot handle the energy required for this task, I’ll move it to tomorrow’s list.
What should your One Big Task be?
I like my One Big Task to be anything related to major goals I have. Whether that’s for the month, quarter, or year. By completing the One Big Task, I’m moving closer and closer to the completion of that goal.
For example, I’m in the process of revamping my copywriting website. It’s been a year since I gave it a facelift. I gave myself a deadline to have it launched by July 1. Once I broke down the big goal into smaller tasks, I prioritized them and made each of those smaller tasks my One Big Task of the day. This meant that every day I was moving closer and closer to finishing that goal.
Your One Big Task can be anything work-related, family-related, or personal-related. So long as it moves you closer to a goal and it’s the main thing you try to accomplish that day. There have been days I’ve completed only my One Big Task and nothing else. You know what? I still felt productive because I know with that task completed, I’m one step closer to reaching my goal.
#2 — The Top Three
Beneath my One Big Task, I write down my Top Three. These tasks fall into one of the following categories:
- Bills or payments
My Top Three tasks are the other big things I want to focus on throughout the day. They can be quick tasks (paying my credit card bill) or they can be longer tasks (drafting a blog post for a client). Each is time-sensitive, though they may not be due for another few days. They could be goal-oriented but part of a goal that’s not as important as the One Big Task one is.
Depending on the deadline of these three tasks, I may put an asterisk (*) next to them to signify their importance. This could mean their due date is this week. If their due date was tomorrow, they’d be put on the One Big Task line.
Now you may have days where you don’t have a lot of priorities and your Top Three could be a Top Two or even a Top One. Whatever you put on this batch, make sure they have some kind of urgency. But leave enough time to complete them.
#3 — The Sooner Rather Than Later List
Finally, below my Top Three goes my Sooner Rather Than Later list. This batch of tasks is everything else I would like to try and finish that day. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Some examples of these tasks could be:
- Clean the bathroom
- Empty the dishwasher
- Sort through the mail
- Read for 30 minutes
- Mow the lawn
Basically, these tasks are things we know we have to do but don’t always have time for. They’re tasks that often get pushed back to later dates. This is fine, but sometimes they can move up to become your Top Three. Depends on their urgency.
Let’s say you’re having friends over and you want to clean your bathroom before then. You’ll want to move that task to your Top Three list or even your One Big Task to signify its importance.
The same goes for something mundane as emptying the dishwasher. If you’re running out of dishes and the sink is overflowing, you might want to focus on emptying the dishwasher. Your Sooner Rather Than Later list is not meant to constantly be ignored. Most of them are tasks you can do between the big ones. Or if you finish the One Big Thing and the Top Three, you can start working on this list.
Sooner Rather Than Later means these tasks are still important, but not urgent.
#4 — The Master To-Do List
The last list I use is my Master To-Do List. This running list of tasks doesn’t go in my bullet journal because there are too many of them. Instead, I keep this list on my phone in a Google Keep document. This allows me to access it on my laptop when I’m planning my quarter, month, week, or day.
Once a week I look through my Master To-Do List and ask myself, “Can I do any of this stuff this week?” If yes, I decide what day and add it to my calendar. I’ll assign a time for it later.
Most stuff on my Master To-Do List is mundane things or projects that aren’t time-sensitive yet. For example, some things on my current Master To-Do List include:
- Find accountant + financial advisor (after vacation)
- Get a new library card
- Change blinds on the second floor (Fall project)
- Drop off plastic film recycling
- Bring books to Free Little Library
- Post items on Poshmark
- Schedule VA pickup
While most of these aren’t time-sensitive, you can see I do mention when I want to get them done. Once they become more urgent, they’ll move up the rung and go to either my Sooner Rather Than Later list or my Top Three. Again, my One Big Task I reserve for anything goal-oriented. That’s a whole other list!
Once I complete something on my Master To-Do list, I delete it. This list is never short. I’m always brain-dumping things I need to do on this list. This way they’re out of my head.
How do I differentiate these tasks?
Part of my effective to-do list template is using different symbols for each of these lists. Here is how I organize them using those specific symbols:
The One Big Task is an empty square and I’ll then highlight it with a specific color. I use a color-coded system, but you can just as easily use a regular yellow highlighter. I like doing this to really showcase its importance and urgency.
The Top Three are represented by three open circles which I color in when completed. And the Sooner Rather Than Later list is small dots that are made bigger when they’re completed. Sometimes I’ll do an X through them, but I prefer the aesthetic of circles.
Having an effective to-do list template that you resort to over and over again can make planning your days super easy. When you find something that works, you should always stick with it. Sure, it’s good to experiment and branch out if you see something else. But if it doesn’t pan out, your original template will be there waiting for you.
Want to see more bullet journal spreads? Be sure to follow me on Instagram where I offer peeks into my bullet journal. And if you’re wondering how I set up my bullet journal for the month, read this post.
One of my favorite bullet journalists and productivityists is Andrea from Plan For Productivity. Be sure to check out her Instagram here for more inspiration and tips.
Are you a bullet journalist? Do you keep a running list of to-dos? Do you use an effective to-do list template or do you wing it every day?