How to Write an Effective To-do list

You've made millions of lists in your life, but have you ever though about how to write a to-do list effectively? I have, and this is what I've come up with.

Make it Focused

As the name implies, a to-do list is a list of things to do. A good to-do list contains items that are focused and actionable, things like "buy milk" or "pick up the dry-cleaning".

Focused items alone however, are not enough. They provide us with very detailed view of our tasks, but they fail to give us a good overview.

An effective to-do list should provide us both with a good micro-level (worm's eye) view of our tasks, as well as a macro-level (bird's-eye) view.

Give it some context

To give us a better bird's-eye view, we need context. This can easily be achieved by giving our tasks a place, take these two lists for example:

To-do (without context)
buy milk
pick up the dry-cleaning
buy some avocados
go to the post-office
To-do (with context)
at store - buy milk
at store - buy some avocados
at home - go to the post-office
at home - pick up the dry-cleaning

As we can see, simply by adding context to our to-do list, we've given it a nice bird's-eye view. We can now see how much stuff we have to do at the store, and how much at home.

Context - subject, action.

Adding context is great for simple tasks, but often it's not enough for complex tasks. As a web-developer for example, I often have to fix specific items on specific pages of a site. To make our tasks more specific, we can break them down into actions and subjects.

The syntax I use break down tasks into subjects and actions goes like this Context - subject, action.

Put into practice, we can create a to-do list that gives us very high-level information about what we have to do, as well as very low-level details about our tasks.

Homepage - header, make logo bigger.
Homepage - header, add 'on-sale' items.
Homepage - footer, change color of search bar.
Product Page - image gallery, change width.
Product Page - product description, make headline bigger.

This simple approach let's us group our tasks into sections, which makes it easier to finish tasks that are related to each other. The syntax for this style of to-do list is actually inspired by a mathematical notation called 'Reverse Polish Notation', so in honour of that, I'll call this approach 'Reverse Checklist Notation'.