How to Write the Most Doable To-Do List

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No matter how many productivity hacks you’ve tried, the one thing that is hard to shake is the overwhelming to-do list. When faced with a daunting task (or many daunting tasks), the first steps are always the most challenging. If this is the case for you, one approach is to make sure those first steps are as small as possible. I’m talking teensy, tiny baby steps. Whenever you’re stuck staring at a lofty to-do list, it might be time to break it down into the most doable to-do list you can dream up.

Why the mini to-do list works

Mini-list items turn even the most mundane tasks into something you can theoretically cross off, all while gradually building up in difficulty. The goal is to take the sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing something—anything—off your list, and then harnessing that accomplishment to motivate yourself further.

This hack actually comes from a depression coping strategy. Like with feeding yourself when you’re depressed, many of us understand how painfully simple tasks can quickly turn into a daunting list of steps that you struggle to complete. Sometimes showering isn’t simply “showering;” it turns into taking off all your clothes, putting those clothes somewhere, getting the water to the right temperature, standing upright for 10 minutes, going through the motions of washing your hair and your face and your body, choosing when to stop the stream of water, drying off, and then selecting a new outfit and getting those clothes and so on and so forth.

But you don’t have to be diagnosed with depression to give yourself the same grace you otherwise would need.

Kick-start your mini to-do list

Like with the showering example above, often a task that should be one list item starts to feel like 20 smaller items. Use that to your advantage. All those mini-steps can be reframed as bite-sized sources of accomplishment.

And so, if you’re struggling with the very first step of coming up with a to-do list, here are some manageable ideas to kick off your list:

  • Turn “make bed” into “get out from under covers, get out of bed, straighten pillows…
  • Turn “send emails” into “open laptop, log into email, hit ‘reply,’ draft email outline, write subject line, etc…
  • Turn “workout” into “pick out exercise clothes, decide on type of workout, listen to pump-up song, lace shoes, fill water bottle…

This micro-level of to-do list items are all you need to get yourself in motion. You don’t have to actually write it all down, but the physical act of crossing items off certainly helps.

One last note: Avoid multitasking here. Your goal is about crossing things off. You already broke down bigger tasks into bite-sized chunks, so don’t get tempted into merging tasks right back into those bigger items.


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