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How to Create a Digital To-Do List + Tools & Examples

Jun 13, 2022
(updated: Jun 22, 2023)
Max 5 min read

Feeling overwhelmed by keeping track of tasks? Don't worry! Using a to-do list to organize your responsibilities might help you feel more grounded and in control of your life.

Compiling and referring back to a general overview of your finished and uncompleted work will help you feel more organized and mentally engaged. Here at Indy, we aim to help freelancers. In this article will discuss what a to-do list is, how you can create it, how it can help you, and why you should use it. 

What is a to-do list?

A to-do list is one of the basic aspects of any business. It is a list of all the tasks that must be completed to attain a major objective. Your own to-do list compiles all of your tasks into one convenient location. 

They are typically arranged in order of priority. Although traditionally written on scrap paper or post-it notes, with the advancement of technology, we have been able to make todo lists using excel spreadsheets, word documents, email lists, and todo list applications.

By writing down a task that you need to do at a later time, you don't have to worry about correctly recalling it. You can clear the concept from your mind and focus on other essential things. Just remember to be concise, but not too concise, otherwise, you might forget what you meant when you return to it later.

What to write on a task list or a to-do list

When a new task comes to mind, jot it down as soon as possible. People often assume that the purpose behind noting down sudden thoughts is to ensure that you don't forget something, but the truth is that quickly jotting down tasks stops you from fixating on them. 

Establishing a to-do list can also help you enhance your short-term memory. You might remember more information if you frequently write down tasks and short-term objectives. You will also be able to ensure that all critical jobs are completed.

Remember: writing one-word items on your to-do list can make it more challenging to complete them, and while laying down a task in non-specific terms may help you feel relieved in the short term, it will hinder your progress and won't benefit you in the long run.

So, note down priority tasks in your to-do list using words you'll be able to understand once the glow of inspiration has faded away.

What are the benefits of a to-do list?

The short answer is that a good list of things to do will help you get more done.

If you don't have a plan for how to handle your work, you'll end up taking on tasks that other people give you. This can make you feel anxious and exhausted because you'll have to keep changing your schedule to get to your own work.

There are other benefits to having a good task management system. Here are four of them.

1. Makes you organized and less forgetful

Our working memory, also called short-term memory, is very small. Psychologists have known since 1956 that the average person can keep 7 things (plus or minus 2) in their head at once.

It's impossible to remember all of your daily tasks and the details for each job. It will only make you forget or mix up important things.

The most important reason to make a list of things you need to do is that it helps you organize and keep track of them.

Instead of asking, "What should I do today?" You can easily see what you need to do by looking at your list of unfinished tasks.

2. Avoids time wasted on the illusion of productivity

Multitasking or changing among activities really doesn't work. Studies show that multitasking makes you less productive, even though it may seem like you're getting more work done.

When you do more than one thing at once, your attention is split between the tasks.

Another bad thing is that it takes people an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to what they were doing after being interrupted. Over the course of a workday, these little things can add up.

Keeping a list of things you need to do can help you stay on track with a task and find flow, which is the feeling of being completely absorbed in your work.

3. Prioritize tasks to avoid wasted time

Time is the most important resource you control. But things like email messages and alerts divert your attention away from the task you need to get done.

Keeping a list of things you need to get done will help you organize your work for the day in a more efficient manner. Because of this, you are able to concentrate your time working on the most vital assignment rather than throwing it away. In the event that anything unexpected occurs, you may also place the items on different lists and rearrange them for a subsequent date.

4. Crossing off to-dos fuels motivation and builds momentum

When you're working on a significant project, it's common to feel overwhelmed and irritated. However, when you check something off of your list of things to do, it may provide a feeling of fulfillment and encourage you to keep pushing on with your job.

Doing so allows you to access dopamine, the most potent driver of motivation that your body has. The simple act of crossing even a little item off of your to-do list is in and of itself a reward. Dopamine is released when things on a to-do list are crossed off, which might help you stay motivated to complete the remaining steps in the process.

Preparing a good to-do list

Making a list of things you need to do doesn't just mean writing down what you need to do that day. Even though that can work, you'll be much more productive if you do things in a structured way.

Follow these steps below to create an effective to-do-list.

Choose your tool—paper or digital

Using pen and paper is straightforward, but you can't quickly organize your work, create alerts for recurring jobs, or give assignments to co-workers.

Not that you should trash your notebooks. Paper lists aren't going away. However, when you require a clear overview for your team or for multiple projects, best practice would be to use a task management app.

Using task management software for to-do lists enables you to swiftly collect and prioritize items. Task management apps have characteristics you simply can't achieve with pen and paper.

Of course, personal preference influences the best answer. Some choose productivity software over pen and paper. Other people are happier with a pen and paper.

Pick one and stick with it. Paper or keyboard. Both work if you use them consistently.

Add everything to your to-do lists

There's not much point in creating a to-do list with only half your tasks on it. When you sit down to create your list, get everything onto it. This is why some people make more than one list. They separate their personal tasks from their work tasks.

Highlight the important tasks and task priorities

Failing to organize tasks by their importance will wreck your to-do list and productivity. When it's time to add tasks, how will you know where to fit them into your schedule? There are several ways of managing tasks:

  • Simply order your list by priority. Then start at the top and work your way down.
  • You could assign tasks a priority level, such as priority A, B, C, and so on.
  • Try assigning due dates or deadlines to every item on your list to motivate yourself to complete them. Due dates make it easier for you to keep track of project milestones, stay focused, help your team members stay in the loop, and ensure everything gets done on time.
  • You can also break up your list according to how many tasks you can finish in a day. Then you can assign the tasks according to both their due date and your work capacity.

Assign tasks to days or weeks

Whatever task management tool you choose, you must assign tasks to days. Each day should have its own specific tasks. This will help you stay focused and organized.

Which tasks get assigned on which days? This goes back to the previous step. If your task list is organized by priority and/or capacity, then it's usually pretty simple to see which ones need to go on your Google Calendar first.

How to create an effective to-do list

Let's not waste any time, either on your to-do list or in this article. Instead, let's focus on how to make really effective lists.

Use more than one list

Make a few lists of what needs to be done. Here are some ideas from us:

  • A master list. This list shows what your long-term goals are. Put everything on your master list, like if you need to clean out your closet and get rid of everything in it, want to sign up for a language class, or need to move to a new apartment.
  • A list of tasks for the week. This list should have everything that needs to happen in the next week. Just put it here.
  • A list of important things to do. Add things here according to their priority and urgency.

Every day, look at the master list and the list of weekly projects to see which items should be moved to your "do it right now" list. 

Think simple to plan effectively

Don't add 90 things to your list for today. Instead, make a master list with all your tasks, copy the work for today onto a simple list, and then hide your master list in a drawer while you go get your stuff done.

Get easy stuff done early to build momentum

Want to feel like you are on top of the world every single morning? Create a to-do list with these items:

  1. Get out of bed before 7:30.
  2. Eat breakfast.
  3. Brush teeth.
  4. Get dressed.
  5. Make the bed.

We can probably all agree these are easy and achievable for most people. But as soon as you write them down and then start checking them off, you fire up the dopamine in your brain.

A good morning routine, especially if it has a checklist, can really set you up for success during the rest of the day.

Think in terms of jobs, not goals or objectives

Extensive or large projects can be intimidating, and you can easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work you have to perform. So, the best course of action is to break down extensive projects into smaller, more manageable chunks, which are easy on the eyes and the brain.  

When some people plan their tasks, they list goals instead of jobs. To make your list work better, try to think of specific things you must get done. Don't write, for example, "Finish project for Client M.'' Instead, write several subtasks that will accomplish the same goal.

Breaking complex tasks into smaller jobs and adding tasks that are manageable is key to getting more done in your workday.

Connect what you are doing to why you are doing it

One way to stay motivated with ongoing tasks is to take a few seconds and make a note about why you are doing something. Let's go back to our morning routine and add some made-up reasons for doing each item.

  1. Beat the school traffic - Get out of bed before 7:30.
  2. Stay on track with weight loss by avoiding mid-morning snacks - Eat breakfast.
  3. Get ready for the dentist - Brush teeth.
  4. Impress your new boss - Get dressed.
  5. Feel good about house - Make the bed.

Maybe some of these are silly. But you can see how adding a "why" to each task could give you more motivation to get them done.

Create separate lists for different work categories

You may be expected to fulfill work related tasks to several initiatives and professional or personal obligations. 

Planning the next month's Facebook posts, for example, may be classified as a social media activity, while conducting a competitor study could be classified as a strategic marketing task. As a result, multiple categories can be used to organize a number of tasks.

Furthermore, color-coding these groups will make it easier to distinguish between them. 

Make a shorter to-do list

Don't place more than four of the most important tasks on your daily list. Having too many tasks on your plate can make it almost impossible for you to keep track of due dates. 

However, to make your life easier, you can establish a second background to-do list to keep track of the tasks heading your way. Sort these tasks according to importance. This way, you will first perform the urgent tasks, saving you time.

Create a realistic to-do list 

Write down things on your to-do list that you can complete the same day. In other words, set goals that are realistic, as you may wind up delaying and even failing to complete your tasks if your goals are too ambiguous or challenging. 

Is it good to have a daily to-do list for all your tasks?

You may already have a general to-do list, but how about a daily to-do list? Is it a good idea to break down your tasks into daily chunks?

Yes, having a daily to-do list is beneficial for meeting the deadlines of every task you come across, whether it's a simple task, for example, cleaning your desk, or a larger client-focused task like completing a mock-up. 

Plus, since all your responsibilities are clearly laid out in advance, a to-do list can help you manage your free time better. After you finish a task and go on to the next one on the list, you will have a better idea of what to accomplish.

In addition to that, completing a task can improve morale. Even if it's as easy as submitting an article, completing a task is a significant motivator for many people. 

What do you write on your daily to-do list?

Having a lot of tasks to remember every day might be stressful, but with the right motivation and tools, you can knock out more tasks and relieve stress. However, best practice dictates that you should not have more than four tasks on your list at a time. 

Piling up too many tasks on your daily to-do list might induce stress by reminding you of the pending duties, so try to keep your lists brief and manageable. If you finish everything on the list but still want to accomplish more, make a new one and start there. Complete the high-priority or most important tasks first, then move on to the rest. 

Your daily to-do list should consist of tasks such as getting started on a project, attending an important meeting, signing documents, writing a report, etc. 

Where to store your to-do list

Smart to-do list

By now, you hopefully know the benefits of a to-do list, but how and where should you create it? There are a few options, including paper, smart lists, and specialist apps. Let's look at each one. 

A smart list is a digital list that automatically updates when other changes are made. They are better than old-fashioned written lists as they are dynamic and stay up-to-date with work you are doing in other folders or documents. 

Smart to-do lists allow you to rapidly note down any task that comes to mind, freeing up mental space. Plus, these tasks are updated automatically and can be created depending on your selected parameters. 

You can, for example, create a smart list that only shows tasks that must be completed within the next month, tasks that don't have a deadline, and tasks that were accomplished within the last week. With a smart to-do list, you won't forget about a priority.

Paper to-do lists

When they're getting started, people typically envision making their own task lists using paper, such as sticky notes or fill-in calendars. However, they often forget that a paper list will take more effort to manage over days and weeks than other options. 

They may also have to shuffle around their plans every day and modify their to-do list more frequently if priorities shift or items need to be rearranged.

Furthermore, a paper to-do list does not provide security, and you cannot carry all of your paper to-do lists with you wherever you go – it's just not feasible. 

To-do list application

Although there's nothing wrong with keeping your to-do list on your phone's notepad, there are several advantages to using an actual to-do list application. 

A digital to-do lists app allows you to compose, organize, and reprioritize your chores more efficiently. It also helps you attach notes, URLs, and documents to a task and to see when a task has been completed by someone else. 

So, keeping a productivity app on your phone or laptop can significantly impact your company's efficiency and work schedule. 

What makes a great to-do list app?

To-do lists come in a variety of formats and shapes. They used to be something you would write on paper using a pen, but due to the advancements in technology, to-do list applications can help you create to-do lists that are more efficient and easier to manage. 

However, choosing a to-do list application can be challenging due to the multitude of apps available on the market. So, what characteristics distinguish an excellent to-do list app?

  • Simplicity – It should be simple to add and manage tasks.
  • Several levels of task organization – It should allow you to organize tasks in several ways.
  • Workflow arrangement – It should help you arrange your workflow.
  • Task scheduling – It should assist you in easily scheduling your tasks.
  • Task assignment – If you're using a to-do list app for project management, then it should allow you to promptly assign tasks to team members. 
  • Syncing – It should be capable of syncing across several platforms.
  • Templates – It should offer list templates.

How Indy Can Help

Here at Indy, we aim to help freelancers with the day-to-day running of their business. Our integrated to-do list app makes it simple to keep track of all your tasks. With list and board views, you can see what's coming up and even keep track of your chores from your calendar.

Here are some other ways Indy can help:

  • Our Time Tracker tracks your hours for you. If you are billing customers based on hourly rate, Indy's time tracking widget shows you how many hours have been billed, or still need to be billed, and can be filtered to your projects for easy timekeeping.
  • Our Calendar tool allows you to easily schedule meetings, track time, and see your deadlines. It also syncs with your Google Calendar, so you can keep up to date with everything!

With Indy, you can manage all of your business tasks, create contracts, send invoices, and safely store important files all in one place! Sign up today and try for yourself.

The bottom line

As mentioned above, a digital to-do list is great for entrepreneurs and freelancers. It is one of the simplest ways to increase business productivity and deliver projects on time. By following the steps above, you can ensure a to-do-list that effectively keep track of all of your personal and business tasks to help you stay organized and avoid wasting time.

Want more information on to-do-lists? Check out our article Tasks Prioritization: 2 Techniques and 3 Proven Tips to Boost Productivity.

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