Which To-Do List Method Is Best for You?


July 15, 2021

how to choose the best to-do list method

An effective to-do list system can be amazing for your productivity, but it can be a challenge figuring out which of the many methods is best for you.

Are you the kind of person who loves the satisfaction of taking your pen and crossing things off your list? Or do you prefer notebooks? Index cards? Sticky notes? Or the latest and best to-do list app you can find?

In this article, you’ll find options to suit any to-do list maker. Here are Amitree’s 5 favorite to-do list methods for getting more things crossed off your list, plus some handy templates to get you started.

Benefits of Having a To-Do List System

Before we dive into the options, it’s helpful to look at why to-do lists are so helpful.

It turns out that there are big benefits to picking and sticking with a to-do list system. Our days are often so hectic it’s easy to feel lost, frustrated or uninspired. But a to-do list helps alleviate those problems.

Lists help you remember what you have to get done, leading to better performance and confidence. Making a to-do list also helps you focus, so you can get more done in a day. Plus, the sense of accomplishment you feel from crossing things off your list is great for motivation.

But it’s important to seek out and find a system that works for you. The right system can help you get more done in less time. The wrong system could be more trouble than it’s worth.

5 Great To-Do List Templates

Whatever your style of work, the following to-do list systems and templates should get you started on the path to better productivity.

Each system has its own logic. In some you’ll make one list, in others you’ll make several lists. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, try out a couple.

Print out and use one of the provided to-do list templates or make your own. Without further ado, here are our 5 favorite to-do list systems.

1. The 1-3-5 Rule

How many things can you get done in a day? Probably not as many as you’d like.

The 1-3-5 Rule is all about two things: prioritizing tasks and pacing yourself so you can get more done.

We all know that some tasks are more or less important than others and that some jobs are going to take more or less time. This to-do list method from Alex Cavoulacos, founder of The Muse, helps you be more realistic about what you can actually accomplish.

Here’s how it works:

On a typical day, assume you can only realistically accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things. That’s a total of nine tasks — more than enough for one day. You can have fewer medium and small tasks if necessary or leave some spots blank for last-minute requests.

With this to-do list system, you’ll be able to complete one important task and stay on top of the little things.

The 1-3-5 Rule To-Do List Template

The 1-3-5 To-do list method

2. The 3 List Method

Just because something isn’t going to get done today doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to you. That’s the idea behind executive coach Allison Rimm’s 3 List Method.

Too often, keeping a to-do list means tackling what’s urgent and what’s easy, while everything else falls by the wayside. Over time, that can mean your simple to-do list gets longer and longer, as tougher and less time-sensitive tasks pile up.

One solution to this problem is the 3 List Method. Here’s how it works:

You make three lists.

  • List #1 is for important tasks that need to get done, but not today.
  • List #2 is for urgent tasks you need to complete today.
  • List #3 is a list of tasks that have been on your list for too long and at this rate, you’re realistically never going to get to them.

Start with List #2, your daily to-do list. Schedule those tasks on your calendar or an app for tracking tasks. Then schedule your less time-sensitive tasks from List #1 for future dates, acknowledging their importance to you. Finally, let go of any worries you still have about List #3 and move on to what’s important.

The 3 List Method is great at helping you prioritize what’s important and get rid of what’s not.

The 3 List Method To-Do List Template

3 List to-do method for tracking tasks

3. The Ivy Lee Method

Some people enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way. With the Ivy Lee Method, all you need is a pen and paper to make a to-do list and a pocket to keep it in.

In the early 1900s, Ivy Lee famously received a check for $25,000 from industrialist Charles Schwab as thanks for helping boost his company’s productivity with this method — namely, keeping your list short and powering through each task before moving on.

Here’s how it works:

  • Before bed, write out 3–6 most important tasks for tomorrow.
  • Number the tasks in order of importance.
  • Transfer the list to a pocket-sized index card.
  • Start your work day with Task #1.
  • Work until it’s finished before moving on to Task #2.
  • Celebrate completion of each task by crossing it off your list.
  • Before bed, write a fresh to-do list for tomorrow.
  • Carry over any unfinished tasks to the next day.
  • After a week, note how often you had leftover tasks.
  • Reduce the volume of daily tasks if 6 is too many.

After almost 100 years, Ivy Lee’s is still one of the best productivity methods there is.

The Ivy Lee Method To-Do List Template

Ivy Lee to-do list method with tasks

4. The Do One Thing Method

If you find you can never get enough done in the day, simplifying how you work could be the way out of the frustration your feeling.

Sometimes the problem is that your to-do list is just too long. Peter Bregman’s idea for a more effective to-do list is to just do one thing.

Here’s how it works:

  • Start by writing out your full to-do list of everything you want to do.
  • Choose only one thing off the list and write it down on a clean sheet of paper.
  • Put away your full list until you have completed and crossed off your one thing.
  • Repeat the process with another task off your full list.

If you’ve struggled with other methods, one-item lists can really make for better to-do lists. It forces you to pick what’s most important and put all your focus on that one thing until it’s done.

The Do One Thing Method To-Do List Template

Peter Bregman's effective to-do list idea

5. The Digital To-Do List 

Some people still enjoy keeping their to-do lists on paper. But let’s not forget it’s 2021. There’s an app for everything and to-do lists are no exception.

A digital to-do list app, often referred to as a digital task manager, is a popular option because it offers things you can’t get with old-fashioned pen and paper.

  • Creating a list is easy. Just take out your phone and you can draft a new list blank list or use a template, set recurring tasks and more.
  • Reminders and alerts are available on pretty much every free to-do list app, something not possible with pen and paper lists.
  • Cloud syncing and accessibility mean you can have a shared to-do list app for sharing a list between different devices or teammates.
  • Rescheduling is easy with a digital tool, meaning you can push back deadlines or reprioritize with a swipe of your finger.

With a quick Google search, you’ll find there’s a lot of free software for task management as well as paid programs and subscription options.

Deciding on the best app for tracking tasks just comes down to your preferences, but if you’re looking for a free task manager that lives in your email, you’ll like Folio by Amitree.

We designed Folio to be an AI-powered solution that helps automate your workflow, organize your emails, and manage project tasks, attachments, reminders and updates all automatically.

It’s a great way to keep track of a busy schedule, be more productive and stay motivated as you work through your to-do list.

Try Folio for free with up to 3 projects.

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Folio plugs directly into your work email inbox and automatically organizes your email, giving you contextual access to all the information you need to increase your productivity in minutes.

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