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To-do lists in theory are helpful tools that can make you more productive than you otherwise might be. But while to-do lists are generally intended to help you complete more work, sometimes they can unfortunately end up having the precise opposite effect and make you get less done.

This happens if you are the sort of person who is continuously writing to-do lists and who is never actually getting anything done. For some a to-do list can actually be a very convenient way to put off getting real work done and thus a form of procrastination. And if you’re constantly writing to-do lists that don’t get done, then this can just be a little disheartening.

So to-do lists are valuable, but only when done right. Here’s how to make sure you do do them correctly…

Keep Them Short

One way to help yourself complete your to-do list is to keep it as short as possible. If your to-do list is too long, then it will not only be daunting to take on, but it will also be unlikely that you’re going to complete the whole thing. Thus you would be better off making a shorter to-do list that you can actually complete – even if it means leaving a few things for tomorrow.

Put the Most Fun/Easiest Item First

Many people think that they should do the hardest and most difficult tasks first and will put them at the top of their lists. While this might seem like a good idea in theory though, often it can actually end up being a negative thing if it means that you put off doing the work at all. In other words, if it’s first thing in the morning, you’re feeling tired and groggy and you really don’t fancy a day of doing boring work – then you’re more likely to end up putting off the work. In that case, it would be better to put an easy task right at the start so that you can ease yourself in to the work.

Don’t Complete the Last Task

This might seem counterintuitive, but to make yourself more productive tomorrow one of the best things you can often do is to be slightly less productive today and to leave the last task started but incomplete. The reason for this is that the human brain hates unfinished work. So in other words, the fact that something is started will mean you feel compelled to complete it at the start of the next day. At which point you’ll then be in a productive state of mind.