Q&A: How To Make A List

the art of making a list

The art of a to-do list and getting things done


Lists come in all shapes and sizes, from a shopping list to a ‘Top 10’ favourite list, but there is one list that can make us feel so much better. A basic ‘To-Do’ list. In this blog piece we look at how to make a list – what goes into a good to-do list and what makes it work?

Why make a list?

We all have things we need to do, from critical work tasks to mundane shopping lists. A list can make you:

  • focus on what you need to do
  • prioritise the most important tasks
  • give you a sense of achievement as you start to make progress
  • help you see how much more you have to do, helping you plan out your time
  • let you know that you’re done (time to make another list!)

Lists are also quick and easy to put together and also quick and easy to manage. Simple but effective.

Choose a subject

A list works best when it is focused around a core subject. It may be that you need more than one list to make it work. Examples of how to make a good list focused might be:

  • a shopping list (again, but it’s a classic)
  • daily tasks
  • project-based tasks

Keep it simple

If the list becomes too long then it may not work well. It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. If it’s that shopping list (again) then maybe it needs to be pretty long, but if it’s your daily to-do list at work then once you start getting north of 10 items it will start to feel a real burden and progress will be slow. Think about splitting a list if it spills over the 10 item mark.

Keep it focused

Even with a 10-item list you may still find yourself adrift, and end up feeling pleased that you’ve ticked off 80% of the list when in fact you’ve failed to do the two most important items on there. If you can, pick out the two or three items (at most) that are the really important items you need to get done.

Private or public?

There’s nothing quite like a bit of peer pressure to help push you over the line. Some lists are clearly not for public eyes (yes, that one) but it might be that by sharing a list it helps. Think about maybe sharing it with a team or within your household. Maybe even share the load. But then you’re into the next item – ownership.


If you are going to have a shared list (i.e. with different people doing different tasks) then just make sure it is clear who owns what.


I have so far avoided acronyms and jargon but sadly it falls upon me to suggest one that is possibly quite useful. SMART lists. Different people will define SMART as being something slightly different but essentially it means:

  • Specific. Make each task clearly focused.
  • Measurable. How else will you know if you have done the task?
  • Assignable. Who will it be assigned to, who will own it?
  • Realistic. Make it an achievable task and it might actually get done.
  • Timely. Give it a timeframe, an expected done by date.

Paper or phone?

And so to back to stationery. In my world there’s a time and a place for both paper and digital lists, so really this isn’t an either/or. It is just a case of choosing the right one.

A paper list is so easy and simple, and lends itself to those tasks you need to jot down quickly, as quick as your train of thought. In my notebook I will religiously write out a daily to-so list of tasks that gets added to (and added to, and added to), and will form part of a larger monthly to-do list. I use a phone app for all sorts of to-do lists but these are where I need to be more time-based (e.g. remind me on Friday to call British Gas).

Click here to buy the Rhodia No.8 pad (our recommendation for lists)

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