I have always been a huge list writer. I like writing things down so I don't forget and I don't have to keep remembering certain things. There is only so much brain space I have! I can't remember that I need to renew my car registration or my daughter has another birthday party to attend (that I have to buy a present for!) After years of writing lists, doing research, and trial and error, I have figured out this is the best way to write effective to-do lists (for me and maybe you!)
DON'T WRITE ONE MASTER LIST
Immediate tasks and "someday" tasks shouldn't be written on the same list. It might make sense for you to write everything down on one list but it is counterproductive when you realize you are not getting anything done because some things take seconds while others take years. Not convinced yet? For example, don't write your list like this:
1) Pay bills
7) Buy milk
18) Get PHD
20) Get an oil change
WRITE SEVERAL LISTS AND KEEP THEM IN ONE PLACE
Split up your tasks by writing daily, monthly, and "someday would be kinda nice" to-do lists. Once you have an idea of what you want to achieve in a month, you can start splitting up the actionable tasks throughout the month in your daily to-dos.
KEEP YOUR LIST SHORT
For your daily to-do list, keep this short and restrict it to three main tasks. Three is the number of things you will likely be able to achieve and cross off your list. Make sure these tasks are actionable and reasonable. Back to the previous points, getting a PHD won't be accomplished in one day.
REVISIT YOUR "SOMEDAY" LIST ONCE IN A WHILE
If certain tasks on this list is important to you, you will find the time to do them. Then, it will be a matter of finding the month and day to write it on your to-do list.
RETHINK YOUR DAILY TO-DO LIST
If there is one item that never gets down and constantly being re-written or passed onto the next day, you really have to rethink this task and ask yourself: Is this something I really want to do? Is this something I can do? Is there a better time for me to do this?
There is nothing wrong with pushing a task off to another day, another month, or scrapping it altogether. The point of writing to-do lists is to get things off your mind (and in writing) and completing them. Do what works for you and if your existing "system" isn't helping you be most productive, give my system a try! Good luck!