To do lists are the only thing keeping me sane throughout crazy semesters full of nightly reading, papers, tests, and projects. Now that I’m going on my fourth year as a college undergraduate student, I’ve learned what things make a to do list helpful rather than a list that can actually be a hindrance to progress. Lifehacker wrote an article a while back with some tips to help out your list-making skills.

Only Include Items You Will Definitely Do

Once I get started making a list, I could go on forever. I’ve got homework to do tonight, but I also have to remember to do that reading for Thursday, and then, oh yeah, my professor told me to go look up that thing for next week, so I gotta do that too. However, making a list of everything you have to do can clutter up your to do list and make it confusing on what actually needs to be done.

Avoid this by only writing down things that you definitely will do today. If you need a place to remember other things to do, make a separate “future to do list” to keep your lists uncluttered and streamlined.

Break Down Big Items

It’s pretty pointless to write “Do Big Project” on your to do list. Obviously you need to do it; the question is how. Big, vague items on your list seem hard and unconquerable. Instead, think about what exactly you need to do for this big project to get done. Research? Go to the library? Write up an outline? Contact group members? Use specific action verbs so that your big tasks are more manageable and you’ll actually be able to accomplish them, one step at a time.

Keep Your List Short

Being productive is awesome. However, there are only so many hours in a day. Overstressing yourself with a huge to do list isn’t going to get you anywhere. Soon, you’ll know what your productive limits are. I read an article a few months ago that said that your to do list should fit on a regular sized Post-It. Anything over that is too much and unrealistic. Challenging yourself to get stuff done is good, so try to fill up the Post-It!

Include as Much Information as Possible

As I mentioned before, it’s important to be as specific as possible when breaking down bigger items. Make sure you’re including all of the information you can on your list. If you need to go to the library, what are the call numbers of the books? If you need to call the pharmacy, what’s their number? This way, if you’re ever stuck somewhere where you can make a quick phone call or write a quick email, you have all the information with you on the list so that you can check another thing off your list.

What do you think makes a better to-do list? Let us know in the comments!

[via Lifehacker]

[Photo courtesy of Ali Nassiri. Licensed under CC BY-2.0.]