Molly Cranna for TIME
Advice

How To Make A Better To-Do List

Feb. 12, 2016

Advice from the queen of lists

My name is Paula Rizzo, and my claim to fame is that I’m a master list maker.

Yup, you read that correctly. I make lots and lots of lists. To-do lists, pros and cons lists, gratitude lists. You name it, I list it.

Making lists keeps me sane and organized at work and at home. Whether I’m going grocery shopping, looking for an apartment or planning an event, I always have a list.

That’s why I started my blog, ListProducer.com, to help more people get organized through lists.

Most people are familiar with the humble to-do list. It’s not hard to write one, but it’s easy to keep adding and adding to that list and get overwhelmed—or to feel like you’re simply never making progress on it. Here are my best tricks for tackling common issues people have with to-do lists.

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1. The to-do list problem: You tend to lose your lists
The fix: Do you make lists on the backs of envelopes or receipts and then forget where you put them? There are several online sites that will keep your lists all in one place. Evernote, Wunderlist and ToDoist are a few of my favorites. You can access them from your computer or your smartphone so your lists will always be at your fingertips.

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2. The to-do list problem: Your lists are never-ending
The fix: Prioritize. Look through your list and determine what really needs your attention first. Once you figure that out, I recommend making a separate list for those items. If you make smaller lists, you’ll get a bigger sense of accomplishment faster. It will feel like you’ve done a lot because you’ll be able to move on to the next list sooner.

Read more: 3 Signs Your ‘Good’ Habits Are Holding You Back

3. The to-do list problem: You never check off everything on your list
The fix: Your list isn’t specific enough. You need to use action words. Don’t just write, “Respond to emails.” Instead do, “Write back to Debbie about birthday party.” That gives you a concrete action that you can complete and then cross off your list (and feel good about).

4. The to-do list problem: Your list is making you stressed out
The fix: Your list is probably disorganized. It’s O.K. to rewrite a list so long as you’re not rewriting just to procrastinate. I’ve been known to do this time and time again when it gets messy. One of the best ways to fix this problem is to create a smaller list. I like to make a different list for each day of the week—that way, I have very focused tasks in one place. I have a plan, and I can stick to it more easily.

Paula Rizzo is an Emmy award-winning television producer and founder of the productivity site ListProducer.com. She’s also the author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed.