The Secret of the Ultimate To-Do List

Rick Broida
Three is a magic number. It says so right there in the song, and I’ve definitely found that to be true when it comes to managing my daily task list.

As you’ve probably discovered, that list can quickly turn from friend to enemy. I think for most folks it falls in the latter category, especially once it grows so long, disorganized, and overwhelming to be of any value.

Think about it: if your list contains dozens of items, your brain will go haywire, insisting there’s no way you can get everything done by the end of the day. In fact, you might hit 5 o’clock and realize you overlooked something really important. And the problem just compounds as you go from one day to the next.

Thankfully, there’s an easy fix. My take on the Best To-Do List Ever will not only boost your productivity, but also give you a unique and unparalleled sense of satisfaction.

Ready? Here’s how it works:

Every morning, before you do anything else, write down three critical tasks that must be accomplished today. You can use a small sheet of paper or your favorite browser- or app-based task manager, but the list should have nothing else on it. Title it “Today’s Three.”

Now, do the first task. Then cross it off.

Do the second task. Cross it off.

Do the third task. Cross it off.

Done! Crumple up your to-do sheet and throw it away. If it’s a digital list, delete it.

This may sound overly simplistic, but even the busiest businessperson can find the time to finish three jobs. And unlike a master list with dozens of items, you simply can’t get overwhelmed by three. In fact, after you cross off that first item, you’ll find yourself thinking, “Wow, I’m already one-third done!” That feels really good.

Indeed, the key benefit of the three-item to-do list is that it makes your day seem infinitely more manageable. But you also get the visceral satisfaction of putting a pen to paper (or finger to screen) and crossing off each task. It’s over, done, gone forever, complete. Ahhhhhh.

And, oh, man, at the end of the day, balling up that sheet of paper or seeing that empty screen makes me feel so accomplished–even if I have 10 other tasks that didn’t get done. (If you find that you’re able to blow through three items too quickly, you can bump the list to four or five—but no more!)

This is my religion. It has reduced my stress level and boosted my productivity. Try it yourself for a week and see if you don’t enjoy the same results. Of course, if you’ve found another method you think works better, by all means share it in the comments section.

Rick Broida is a freelance technology writer at CNET. Follow him on Twitter @cheapskateblog or check his “Cheapskate” articles on CNET.

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