Does Your To-Do List Have Any Verbs?

Posted on 10 December, 2014 in Productivity / 10 Comments

to-do list with verbsTake a look at your to-do list.

This may seem like an obvious question, but does it actually have anything you can do?

Verbs, people. I’m talkin’ bout verbs.

You can read all the lifehack posts you want about how to get your to-do list done, but they don’t address any problems with the list itself.

I understand the urge to sit down with your coffee (or in my case, chocolate milk) every morning and quickly jot down a list of what needs to get done. The sooner the list is made, the sooner you can start crossing things off it.

But that’s making things harder than they need to be. After all, what’s that saying about getting to the root of the problem? For us list-makers, it all starts with a good list.

I’ve always loved finding ways to work smarter and more effectively. But recently I’ve taken more of an effort to experiment with different tactics and pay attention to their results. After all, ya gotta get stuff done. At the end of the day, that’s what productivity tips and lifehacks are for, right?

Writing an Effective To-Do List

So take a look at the to-do list in the picture. I know it’s a bad picture and I’ve been told my handwriting is “bubbly” and “squishy,” so here it is again:

  • Write blog post
  • Take a pic of this list
  • Have a one-girl dance party

(Yeah, I had a really tough day. I also took a nap. But being the only attendee at a dance party is hard work, and a lot of pressure.)

Now, I could have (and a few months ago, would have) written it like this:

  • Blog post
  • Pic
  • Dance party

Without them, you have a list of things. Not things to do. So if you want to get technical (and I always do), it’s not a to-do list. My reaction when I realized this? Mind. blown.

Why It Works

I may look at that second list and see “blog post,” but forget the details. Am I supposed to be writing it? Formatting it? Promoting it?

(I’m now realizing how poor my sample list is for the points I’m trying to prove, so just think about what your own list usually looks like.)

You may think, “Well, duh. I write blog posts. So of course, I’ll see ‘blog post’ and know what I need to do.” And that may be true. But at work, I’m involved in writing, editing, formatting, and promoting blog posts. Even if I need to do all four in a given day, breaking it down into four different and actionable items makes my to-do list clearer and more detailed. More importantly, it makes your action plan about action, instead of things.

Get specific and break down your projects into specific tasks (brainstorm, call, follow-up, outline, print out, etc.). It makes your list seem much more manageable. You may not consciously notice it. I know I didn’t at first. But then I noticed something: even though my lists became longer when I made sure to use verbs, I was crossing off more items. More importantly, I felt like I was getting more done, and that made me happy. Happy Brittany has more fun at solo dance parties.

So I ran with it. My to-do lists began getting longer and more detailed:

  • Email Lucille Bluth about how much I love using Arrested Development reaction gifs.”
  • Watch a solid 6 hours of Parks and Rec on Netflix.
  • Write a blog post about using verbs in your to-do list.

I know I’ve seen a post somewhere (wish I’d saved it!) about how this list-making method also has some other pretty interesting cognitive effects. Go science!

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: start writing lists of things you need to do, instead of just things. I like this framework by 43Folders: “verb the noun with the object.” Every item on your to-do list should have all three aspects. I love it so much I’m about to write it on a post-it to keep on the cover of my planner.

How do you structure your to-do list?

Does Your To-Do List Have Any Verbs-