How To Make A Realistic To-Do List

written by Marie

Last updated on: April 26, 2021

Published on April 20, 2021

Marie-Philippe Gill writing in a notebook

We have all already encountered this problem: in the morning, we wrote a nice to-do list for the day. However, at 8 p.m., we realize that we haven’t even finished half of the list! In this article, I want to give you some tips for evaluating your to-do list you have made and help you make it more realistic.

6 Easy Steps to a more realistic to-do list

Often on Sundays, I plan my tasks for the week ahead. These days, I use a Bloom Daily Planner Weekly Planning pad. This method is particularly effective for me when I feel buried under tasks and have too much to do. By planning my whole week in advance, it gives me the feeling that I am in control and can successfully face the week.

Using the method that I share below, I start by spreading out the tasks throughout the week, and then, day-to-day, I can evaluate if it’s feasible or not. This is helpful to make sure you can meet your deadlines, won’t feel burnt out, and avoid being disappointed in yourself because you couldn’t reach the end of your unrealistic to-do list.

Watch the video for the step-by-step guide on how to make a realistic to-do list on my Instagram:

1- Write a to-do list

I cannot say it enough. It is essential to write a to-do list for your day! There are several ways to make to-do lists. The easiest is probably to do it on paper with checkboxes.

I’ll be writing an entire article soon on the different ways and sites I use to make my to-do lists, but here are a few options that I use regularly:

2- Estimate the time required to complete each task

Once your to-do list is written, the next step is to estimate the time needed to complete each task. Usually, I try to round up the time I think a task will take me to be on the safe side.

At this step, you also have to be kind to yourself. For example, when I was doing math exercises, it was difficult for me to admit that the 3 remaining exercises would surely take me 3 hours to complete. However, we have to be honest with ourselves and plan 3 hours to do these exercises, not just 1 hour, because we feel bad about the time that is actually required! (I must not be the only one doing this!)

As you can see on the image, I’m using the margin of my notebook and writing in purple the estimated time required to complete each of my tasks.

3- Calculate the total time and see if it’s realistic

The next step is pretty easy! From the estimates you made for each task, calculate the total time you need to work to accomplish all of your tasks and write it down at the bottom of the page.

What works for me: I realized that to fill a full day of work, it is around 6 hours total of tasks. Even if I am physically in front of my computer longer than 6 hours a day, the time that I need to eat lunch, take short breaks, make a coffee, etc., well, after 6 hours of tasks, the evening has actually already started.

4- Time-Blocking in your calendar

Take each task individually, and add them to your calendar. Personally, I am using iCalendar. This way, you block in your calendar when each task is going to be completed. This step also helps to become aware of the amount of work to be done during the day or the week you are scheduling!

I find time blocking helpful if you’re someone who has trouble evaluating whether you can agree to new commitments while still delivering what you have promised previously. It is very visual and allows you to see where your time goes.

As you can see in the image below, in my calendar, I have added many details, going as far as including my meals. You don’t have to do the same. You can focus on only entering your tasks. Always do what works best for you! Also, at the end of the week, I like to have a couple of hours entered as “buffer”. Then, when a task takes more time to complete than I planned, I use the buffer time to complete my tasks.

Screenshot of iCalendar, where we can see tasks spread out over the whole week with buffer on Saturday for tasks that we could not complete

5- Time tracking for each task while you’re working

Finally, while I’m working during the day, I use Toggl Track to “count” the time that each task actually takes. Then, I look at the total time a task took and compare it with the estimate that I made!

With Toggl Track, I enter the task title, and then I add as “Project” what type of task it is. Here are the different projects I use:

  • Life: I use this project when I do housework, sort papers, go to appointments, etc.
  • Girl Knows Tech: When I’m working on content for my blog, Instagram, or when I’m responding to emails!
  • Acronym for my classes: When I had classes at university, I would create projects for each of my classes, and I would count the time spent on my homework or study for exams
Screenshot of Toggl Track showing the calendar view and how much time each task required
Calendar view of the time I spent on each task that I tracked on Toggl Track

6- Feedback: prediction vs real time required

The last optional step is to calculate the difference between the time you initially planned for a task and compare it with the actual time required to complete it.

I like this step because it allows me to give myself feedback and see if I have estimated correctly or not. Every day, or every week, I can improve my estimates and make continuous improvements with each iteration! 😉

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you and given some tips to make a more realistic to-do list that you can complete during the day!

Obviously, creating realistic lists is a skill that develops and improves over time. The more you do it regularly, the better you will get to know yourself and how much time we need to do each task!

Lastly, I want to emphasize that you don’t have to do all of the advice in this article. You can, for example, not do the time-blocking or time tracking if you feel that this does not help you. I know some people can say this technique means spending too much time planning without executing anything, but what works for me might not work for you. It’s up to you to adapt this method to your needs and find out what works for you!

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