Friday morning I asked my Facebook friends for blog post ideas. This question came from Erin O’Bryan, a long-time Facebook and Twitter friend who lives not-too-far from me, but I have never met in person. (Erin, when are we going to fix that?) Anyway, since today is Erin’s birthday, I thought I’d use her question as inspiration for this post. 

I am a fan of lists of every kind, and to-do lists especially.

My team uses Basecamp to create fairly sophisticated to-do lists for managing projects, and I venture to say I would not be able to run my business without Basecamp (or a similar tool.)

On Basecamp, I can easily sort and create my own to-do lists: the tasks (shamefully) overdue, the tasks due today, tasks due later this week, etc. I can also look at all the tasks assigned to me. Team members can find their to-dos easily, as well. We can view to-dos by project to for an overview of each project.

That said, whether or not to-do lists work is a fairly individual question. To-do lists work for some people and may not work for other people. I may prefer using Basecamp and you might like a spreadsheet.  Or you might prefer a list handwritten on an index card or scrap paper.

Here are a few tips to increase the likelihood that to-do lists will work for you:

Record the list. Whether you write your list on paper or type it into an app, record it! A list that is written down is far more effective than the list that’s nagging in your thoughts.

Look at your list. Basecamp is only useful if I look at my list of to-dos. Your handwritten list is only effective if you keep it handy and refer to it.

Use your list to help you focus. Once you have written a list, look at your list and choose one task at a time for your focus. I do best when I have a list, and when I prioritize the list in advance. Lists work even better when I choose a task and set a timer for each task.

Have a reasonable list. If your to-do list is too unwieldy, you may feel overwhelmed and defeated before you begin. At times, I feel that way when I look at my Basecamp to-do lists. Instead, create a list that you can actually accomplish in a day. Three or four big to-dos are probably enough.

Tell me something! Do to-do lists work for you? How do you prefer to keep your list? What other suggestions can you add about how to make to-do lists more effective?