Create To-Do Lists Like a Pro for Successful Planning

Create To-Do Lists Like a Pro for Successful Planning

Many people do it wrong: Just write down everything you have to do and then check it off, right? If you proceed in this way, you run the risk that this supposed assistance turns out to be stress and a brake on progress. But that’s exactly what a TO-DO list is supposed to help with.

We have put together a guide to help you create a good and feasible to-do list. Also for “professionals” in this field.


  1. Step by Step Guide for To-Do List Creation
  2. NOT To Do List + Download Template
  3. Planning methods

Detailed instructions on how to create a professional task list:

Step 1: Collect to-dos in a list

Before you create a task list, you logically need to gather the tasks that need to be done. Sit down, pick up the pen and off you go, right?

Of course, you can also create a list like this. But there is a risk of overlooking important things. It is better to approach the matter in a structured way. For example, ask yourself these questions during brainstorming.

What are my main tasks?

Most of the time, there are some major tasks, to which several smaller tasks are assigned. Therefore, first think about what are the main to-dos you have to do.

What are the individual work steps?

Stay motivated throughout the day by splitting large tasks into smaller steps. This way, you’ll feel like you’re doing more tasks and visually see your good progress instead of working for hours to check off a task. Plus, you won’t forget any important steps.

Are there intermediate steps?

It may be that certain tasks are interrelated and thus work steps arise in turn. These are not directly connected with the superordinate main tasks, but are nevertheless needed to tackle the next step. Therefore, do not forget these points!

Step 2: Estimate time for tasks

Plan better with time estimation

As easy as it sounds, this will also make it easier for you. By creating an approximate time estimate, you can better organize your tasks and create a schedule. This will also prevent you from loading up on too many tasks for the to-do list period.

End date calculable

Thanks to a time estimate, you will also be able to set an end date or deadline, which can then actually be achieved. This is important because if you are not very precise with your time, you may not be able to meet important deadlines and thus jeopardize the successful completion of the entire schedule.

Step 3: Sort, prioritize and filter tasks

You may now have a long list of tasks in front of you. Now it’s time to filter out the most important things and to sort and clean out the list.

Estimate effort

How long will it take to complete this task?
As mentioned above, time estimation is very important for prioritizing and ranking tasks. If you are not sure, you should allow for a small buffer. If you are still faster, you can work on your next task earlier. The other way around would be a bit more uncomfortable.

Have I already done the preliminary work for it and can I start immediately?
Even though tasks are on your to-do list, that doesn’t mean you can start them right away. Sometimes certain preliminary work needs to be completed before you can start. Therefore, don’t forget to pay attention to them and include them in the effort.

Do I need help with this – if so, who can help me?
Not all tasks can be done by yourself. Moreover, sometimes it may be even wiser to call in someone else for the task. It is always about choosing the fastest and best way. If another person has more knowledge in a certain area and can do the task faster and better, you should consider handing over this task.


How important/urgent is this task?
This makes the classification much easier. The famous Eisenhower Matrix can be very helpful here:

For whom is the completion important/urgent?
If there are people who have already assigned a priority to certain tasks, this should be taken into account. However, it is important not to forget to pay attention to one’s own goals and not to let one’s own workflow be too strongly guided by external factors.

Is there a deadline and can I meet it?
It is certainly obvious that tasks with obvious deadlines have to be prioritized higher. I don’t think more needs to be said about this.

Does the timing of completion affect other tasks?
It may be that a task must be completed before work can begin on a certain other thing. Therefore, keep an eye on these important things and finish them a little earlier.

This way you can avoid possible chain failures.
For larger projects, be sure to create a timeline if one does not already exist.


Am I the right person for the job?
Consider whether someone else could take on the task if they are better suited for it. However, you should make sure that the resulting effort (finding the person, clarifying free time, giving an introduction to the topic, etc.) is not too great.

Can the completion wait?
Yes? If it is important and urgent – schedule it.
If it is not important and not urgent – try to eliminate the task.

Is this task currently relevant for me and my project?
Should I work on the task or not? To make a decision, you can consider whether this step will take you further towards your goal or not. If the task is not important for the achievement of my project/goal and furthermore not very important for other involved persons, you can rather exclude it or plan it for the future.

Step 4: create a schedule

Block time

Don’t just plan THAT you will do the task, but determine WHEN and HOW LONG it will take you to do it, if possible. This way you can plan a time frame and take more specific time. This way you won’t be distracted and you will focus on one task instead of jumping back and forth between several tasks.

Set limits

End dates are necessary, otherwise it is not possible to set up a schedule/timeline. However, always plan a small buffer so that tasks do not overlap or jeopardize each other.

Complete difficult tasks first

People like to tend to do the easy tasks first and put off the big more difficult tasks. However, you should try to tackle the most difficult tasks first. It can help you break them down into smaller tasks and stay more motivated.

Keep a block of time free for completing the many small tasks

Smaller tasks, which can be completed in less than 5-10 minutes, should be done in one block as much as possible. This will prevent you from being pulled out again and again by small tasks while you are working on large chunks in between.

The right number of tasks for a working week/day

A good to-do list contains just the right number of tasks. This doesn’t have to mean that you can only have 5-10 items on your to-do list. It’s more about being able to complete the list in the time you have planned.

The points above should help you filter, prioritize and plan your list.

Step 5: Reflect and improve

What worked well?

What didn’t work well?

Which points did I misjudge?

Where would I have needed help?

Which points would I now classify differently?

Thinking two steps ahead

  • What things can I automate or eliminate as best I can in the future?
  • Think – what can I do today that I won’t have to tackle tomorrow, rather than the other way around
  • Which tasks can I hand over in the future?

NOT To-do list

A not-to-do list is definitely worth a try! This alternative approach can give fresh impetus to the way you work with a new perspective. Especially because you can use a distress to-do list in a variety of ways.

Possible uses of a Not To-do list

Write down negative things you don’t want to pay attention to like gossiping, giving up, getting stressed out, not praising yourself, not taking breaks, finding someone to blame, etc. This will help you motivate yourself and go through the day more mindful by paying attention to these aspects as well.

Write typical mistakes on your list, which you want to avoid in the next tasks and remind yourself with the help of the list. It is then, so to speak, a small helper and guide.

Keep the focus on the important things by noting things that usually distract you or turn out to be time wasters. In this way, the list will help you make decisions throughout the day when you are constantly reminded of these “no-go’s”.

Here you can download and print our Not To-do list template, so you can hang it up at your workplace, for example, and always have it in sight.

Click on the image to download the template.

Task planning methods

ALPEN method

This planning method is a bit better known and is mainly used for creating daily schedules.

  • Note tasks, appointments and activities

In this first step you can simply write down all to-dos and appointments unfiltered. This list is then, so to speak, the starting material with which you can then continue to work.

  • Estimate length

Now you have to estimate the time needed for each task. This helps later to assign the tasks the sensible allocation of tasks. It can also be helpful to set limits and divide large tasks into several smaller work packages, for example.

  • Allow for buffer times

Very important. Don’t schedule every minute of the day with tasks. In reality, there are delays, distractions, and many other factors that require scheduling buffers so that tasks can actually be completed.

Here, the opinions of the experts are somewhat divided as to how much buffer time should be planned. Some speak of the 50:50 rule (50% time for buffers & 50% time for tasks), others of the 40:60 rule (40% buffer & 60% tasks). In the end, it always depends on how much you trust yourself. You will find out for yourself how much buffer you need to plan for by planning-executing-reflecting.

  • Make decisions

To ensure the feasibility it is of course very important to keep the amount of tasks small and to prioritize them. The Eisenhower Matrix, for example, can help to organize, delegate and prioritize tasks.

  • Follow-up

This step is neglected and underestimated by many people. Good reflection is the strongest driver for growth and rapid improvement. This is specifically about the follow-up, whether the time estimation was good, how much buffer was needed, whether delegation worked and whether prioritization was good.

S.M.A.R.T. – how to define goals perfectly

If a target meets all 5 conditions, it is “S.M.A.R.T.”

S – specific

Goals should be formulated as precisely as possible. Therefore, avoid general unclear definitions.

M – measurable

The goal you set should be measurable once you reach it.

A – activating

It would be good if your goal is desirable for you and you are motivated by the attractiveness to achieve it.

R – realistic

Take a critical look at your goal and discuss whether it is really achievable for you.

T – terminated

Set a date for your goal.

Example: I will get up at 6:00 every workday so I can take the first bus (specific), where you can almost always get a seat. This will help me arrive at work more relaxed (activating). After 30 days on 9/30 (scheduled), this should be part of my daily routine. (goal)

This goal is measurable if I continue this routine after 9/30.

The goal is also realistic, as it is possible to get up at this time every day.

1-3-5 rule – a simple task list that is manageable.

As you have already heard in the article before, it is not about creating a long to-do list, but a small and completely feasible one. Important and unfortunately also difficult in this matter is the filtering and prioritizing of tasks.

The 1-3-5 rule can help you not to write down too many tasks and to pay attention to prioritization at the same time. This method is very simple and easy to remember.

1 task – the most important task for you, which should be done without fail

3 tasks – these tasks are more important than the rest

5 tasks – these to-dos are small tasks with less priority

We’re glad you liked this post. If you have any additional points to share with us, just write to us or leave a comment.

We’re glad you liked this post. If you have any additional points to share with us, just write to us or leave a comment.

We’re glad you liked this post. If you have any additional points to share with us, just write to us or leave a comment.

Rob Nash
Rob Nash

Rob Nash is a tech writer with a comprehensive focus on technology, productivity, and overall success in life and business.

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