To do or not to do: How to make effective to-do lists [VIDEO]

To-do lists can help you use your time wisely and keep you on track if they are used effectively. Let this article get you started in 5 simple steps.

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  • Part of being organized is knowing the tasks you need to complete. One way to keep tasks organized is to use a to-do list. To-do lists keep you focused and motivated. I like to use to-do lists for both daily, weekly and even monthly reminders. Make to-do lists work effectively for you in five simple steps.

  • 1. Choose a format.

  • There are many organization applications available for smartphones and tablets. Some people rely heavily on these apps. They can send alerts and reminders to keep you on track. If you think a digital to-do list is right for you, this article at Forbes.com lists 9 of the best to-do lists for 2014. I happen to prefer pen and paper, but I also use my phone or calendar on my computer for long-term lists. Choose a format that works for you and your life.

  • 2. Think it through.

  • Make sure you put the most important tasks on your to-do list. I always put exercise on my to-do list because it is important to me. The tasks on your list are the ones that you need to accomplish. If you need a little motivation, put a few "cheat" items on it, like "eat breakfast" or "walk the dog," but make sure the majority of your list focuses on the relevant tasks. If your days are very busy, you might consider having a weekly master list and then separate shorter lists for each day.

  • 3. Be reasonable.

  • Sometimes I get a little over-ambitious in my plans. If your list has too many tasks on it, it’s easy to feel frustrated rather than motivated. Think about your day or week and how much time you have. Prioritizing the items on your list will help you accomplish the most important things first. Avoid frustration by making your to-do list reasonable.

  • 4. Check it often.

  • If you write a to-do list and then ignore it all day, it's not of much use to you. Check in with your to-do list, and keep yourself on track. If you use an app on your phone, set reminders to help keep you motivated. I feel satisfaction as I cross items off my list. Checking in makes me use my time wisely. It also gets me back on track for the day if I’ve gotten distracted.

  • 5. Reward yourself.

  • People like to be rewarded. You might make it through your to-do list if you know there is a reward waiting for you at the end. A small reward like relaxing with a book, treat, or TV show can keep you motivated to work all day. Accomplishing a weekly list might garner a bigger reward, like lunch out with a friend.

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  • To-do lists can work for everyone. I even use them with my kids to remind them of chores, practices and homework. If you want to stay focused and on track, use to-do lists effectively. Your productivity and free time will both increase.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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