7 Expert-Approved Ways to Write a Better To-Do List

iStock.com/Cn0ra
iStock.com/Cn0ra

When feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks ahead of you, sit down, take a breath, and write a to-do list. This isn’t just a sneaky form of procrastination: Studies have shown that we’re more likely to achieve our goals when we commit them to paper. If you really want to make the most of your planning time, ditch the old-school bullet format. These expert-backed strategies will help you confront your deadlines with confidence.

1. TIME-BLOCKING

On a traditional to-do list, obligations that take hours to complete appear alongside tasks that last a few minutes. Without time-blocking, it can be hard to tell them apart. Fast Company defines time-blocking as assigning individual tasks to manageable time slots. So instead of writing out everything on your plate for the day and hoping you have enough time to tackle it all, this approach lets you set realistic goals for yourself one task at a time.

2. IF/THEN LISTS

To-do lists are inherently optimistic. By writing something down, you’re betting that you’ll have the time and energy to make it happen. But sometimes life gets in the way of your fine-tuned plans. One strategy for setting reasonable goals without selling yourself short is to make two lists: one for high-energy days and another for days when you struggle to roll out of bed. According to blogger and Bullet Journal enthusiast Kara Benz, both lists should follow an “if/then” model. An entry on the first list, for example, might read, “If I have a lot of energy, then I will take a walk at lunch.” The second list should feature more mindless tasks like cleaning out your inbox, organizing your desk, or even setting aside time for a power nap.

3. EISENHOWER MATRIX

Michele Debczak

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." Someone found a way to turn this maddening statement into a rather useful prioritization system. Plugging your to-do list into an Eisenhower Matrix breaks it into four categories. The first box, filled with items that are both urgent and important, is to be tackled immediately. The second set, labeled important but not urgent, can be scheduled for a later time. Tasks deemed urgent but not important can be delegated to others if possible, and entries that are neither urgent nor important should be crossed off the list altogether.

4. DRAWING

Many people use their own special shorthand when writing to-do lists—which is fine as long as they can decipher it hours later. If you’ve ever had trouble decoding the notes you write to yourself, consider doodling quick images to get your message across. One study found that words are more likely to stick in our memories if we draw pictures of them instead of writing them down. This is likely because drawing takes up more mental facilities (visualization, analysis, motor skills) than language alone. So not only does creating a visual to-do list help you memorize tasks, it also forces you to think them through ahead of time.

5. ONE-THREE-FIVE LIST

Instead of organizing entries by time or urgency, a one-three-five list looks at the size of the tasks at hand. Start by identifying the biggest job of the day—that goes in the number one slot. From there, pick three smaller, but still important tasks to fill out the middle of your list. Finish it off with five small items you’ll be able to take care of quickly. COO and co-founder of The Muse Alex Cavoulacos is a notable fan of this method. She wrote for her website, “Planning ahead like this also means you'll be able to have more informed conversations with your manager when he or she drops something new on you that needs to be done right away—as well as the tools to re-prioritize your other work.” So while it may be impossible to stick with what’s on the list every day, it doesn’t hurt to have it as a guideline.

6. KANBAN BOARD

Jeff.lasovski via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Like a calendar, a Kanban board helps you keep your day organized by visualizing the tasks ahead. Kanban was popularized as a scheduling strategy for manufacturing plants, but as productivity experts Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry write in their book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, it works on an individual level as well.

Start by finding a board. It can be a tool on your computer, a white board covered in Post-its, or a few columns of index cards on your desk. The important thing to remember is that any task you write down won’t stay in the same spot for long. After filling out the three columns—"To-Do," "Doing," and "Done"—jump into the items in your “Doing” section. Any items you complete should be relocated to the "Done" column, and any items you start from the "To-Do" section should move to under "Doing." Ideally the board should be situated in a spot that’s easy to glance at throughout the day. That way you can easily visualize your progress.

7. COULD-DO LIST

Sam Bennett likes to be realistic when planning out her day. Instead of writing a to-do list, the author of Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes A Day takes the pressure off by creating a "could-do" list. In order to weigh the importance of her optional tasks, she plugs them into a worksheet. She suggests reserving columns for tasks, time (how long each task will take), expense (if any), inclination (how appealing the task is on a scale of one to 10), and the return on your investment (also scaled one to 10). Based on those metrics, it should be easy to see which items take priority—and if you don’t have time to get to everything, it’s not the end of the world.

This story originally ran in 2017.

25 Gift Cards That Give You—and Your Recipient—the Best Bang for Your Buck

flyparade/iStock via Getty Images
flyparade/iStock via Getty Images

Though gift cards can definitely solve your annual conundrum over what to buy those hard-to-please people on your list, deciding on a gift card is the easy part—deciding which gift card to give them, however, is where the challenge comes in.

To help you narrow it down, WalletHub devised a multi-factor ranking system for gift cards of all types, from home improvement outlets like Lowe’s to subscription services like Netflix. Researchers analyzed popularity (based on search volume), average buyer’s discount across major gift card exchange sites, average resale value, retailer ratings on popular review sites, and shipping fees, and then assigned an overall score to each of America’s 100 largest retailers.

According to the study, your best option this year is a Target gift card, with an average buyer’s discount of 5.76 percent, a resale value of $77.12, and a retailer rating of 3.09 out of 5.

But before you stock up on Target gift cards for your many friends and family members, you might want to peruse the rest of WalletHub’s data. IKEA, for example, which tied for third place with Home Depot and eBay, boasts an average buyer’s discount of 10.85 percent.

The top performers from the food industry were Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Chipotle, which all tied for fourth place (among several other companies, Netflix and iTunes included) with 50 points apiece.

Even if you’ve already decided which gift cards you’re going with this holiday season, it’s still worth looking at WalletHub’s data before you buy them to make sure you’re getting a discount comparable to (or better than) the average. And, if there’s a particularly choosy recipient on your list who’ll likely try to resell their gift card, perhaps pick one with an especially high resale value, like Costco’s $84.60 or Walmart’s $84.09.

Check out the rankings below, including overall score, and find out the full details from WalletHub’s study here.

  1. Target // Score: 70
  1. Walmart // Score: 60
  1. Sephora // Score: 60
  1. eBay // Score: 55
  1. Home Depot // Score: 55
  1. IKEA // Score: 55
  1. iTunes // Score: 50
  1. Starbucks // Score: 50
  1. Costco // Score: 50
  1. Chick-fil-A // Score: 50
  1. Netflix // Score: 50
  1. McDonald’s // Score: 50
  1. Fandango // Score: 50
  1. Chipotle // Score: 50
  1. REI // Score: 50
  1. Old Navy // Score: 50
  1. H&M // Score: 50
  1. Disney // Score: 45
  1. Google Play // Score: 45
  1. Best Buy // Score: 45
  1. Macy's // Score: 45
  1. Lowe's // Score: 45
  1. Subway // Score: 45
  1. Amazon // Score: 40
  1. Gamestop // Score: 40

The 20 Most Expensive ZIP Codes in America

The San Mateo Bridge runs along San Francisco's Bay Area, home to many of America's most expensive ZIP codes.
The San Mateo Bridge runs along San Francisco's Bay Area, home to many of America's most expensive ZIP codes.
Andrei Stanescu/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t need to be a real estate agent to know that New York and California are two notoriously expensive places to live. However, those inconceivably high property values aren’t just contained to mansions in Beverly Hills or office buildings in Midtown Manhattan.

Each year, PropertyShark crunches the numbers on real estate prices across the country to discover which ZIP codes are truly the most expensive—and this year, multiple ZIP codes across California and New York once again reigned supreme. Instead of analyzing asking prices, PropertyShark looked at each area’s median sale prices, which more accurately reflect how much people are actually willing to pay for each property based on supply and demand.

At the top of the list for the third straight year is Atherton’s 94027 in California’s Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley venture capitalists, sports figures like Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, and more. The median sale price for real estate there is $7,050,000, and the luxury housing in the region definitely isn’t owned by the Currys’ neighbors alone—nearby ZIP codes that also cracked the top 20 include Palo Alto’s 94301 and 94306, Los Altos's 94022 and 94024, and several others.

top 10 most expensive zip codes
PropertyShark

South of the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange County ZIP codes make impressive appearances on the list, too. Los Angeles’s Santa Monica (90402) and Beverly Hills (90210, of course) took the third and fourth spots, respectively, with median sale prices just over $4 million, and Orange County’s Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar also made the top 20.

Overall, California took a staggering 16 of the top 20 spots, and New York was the second-place state with four spots. Surprisingly, the most expensive New York ZIP code isn’t in the heart of the Big Apple—it’s farther east, in a Long Island village called Sagaponack, which is, unsurprisingly, in the Hamptons.

The top 20 (which is actually the top 22, because of two ties) also includes a Boston ZIP code and one in Medina, Washington, which borders Lake Washington.

Scroll on to find out just how expensive each ZIP code is, and read more about PropertyShark’s study here.

  1. Atherton, California (94027) // $7,050,000
  2. Sagaponack, New York (11962) // $4,300,000
  3. Santa Monica, California (90402) // $4,154,000
  4. Beverly Hills, California (90210) // $4,080,000
  5. New York, New York (10007) // $3,900,000
  6. Boston, Massachusetts (02199) // $3,669,000
  7. Palo Alto, California (94301) // $3,522,000
  8. New York, New York (10013) // $3,515,000
  9. Los Altos, California (94022) // $3,450,000
  10. Ross, California (94957) // $3,350,000
  11. Portola Valley, California (94028) // $3,300,000
  12. Medina, Washington (98039) // $3,200,000
  13. Los Altos, California (94024) // $3,150,000
  14. Newport Beach, California (92661) // $3,140,000
  15. Newport Beach, California (92662) // $2,900,000
  16. Corona Del Mar, California (92625) and Stinson Beach, California (94970) // $2,800,000
  17. Palo Alto, California (94306) // $2,751,000
  18. New York, New York (10282) // $2,660,000
  19. Los Gatos, California (95030) and Burlingame, California (94010) // $2,630,000
  20. Santa Barbara , California (93108) // $2,620,000

[h/t PropertyShark]

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