why your to-do list does not work

Source: HubSpot

Let’s face it – we’ve all been there. Browsing for this one productivity app that will make organizing your work and personal life a breeze. Tools like Google Keep and Evernote, and all the other unicorn start-ups with high ratings and pretty design. The problem is – they somehow don’t make you any more productive. You’re still not making the progress you want to be making. Your information isn’t perfectly organized. You realize that there’s no “one app to rule them all”.

But these apps are all so pretty and seem to help other people – is the problem with you?

Well, not really. But it’s probably not in the to-do list either. What truly matters is the system you use for making your to-do list work for you, not the other way around.

You don’t need to waste your time learning new software, moving all your data and then realizing it doesn’t make the slightest difference, or at least not nearly as much as you’d hoped for.

The proper way is to create your personal system first, then find the tools that will make it work in a scalable, seamless way. When creating your system, there are several main concepts to keep in mind. They are the primary building blocks for all the effective to-do listing, goal-smashing and productivity boosting you want. If you get these right, your to-do list will magically start working for you.

So without further ado, here’s what you need to consider:


The basis of making your system work is in taking proper notes. You need a fast and convenient way to collect information for review later. This means:

  • mobile
  • on your home screen 
  • with as few taps as possible

Most to-do list apps will do this for you. But what’s really important is that your mobile notes get automatically uploaded online. This way you can see them on your computer later where it’s easier to categorize and prioritize them, which takes us to our next point:


Categorizing your notes is the preparation needed for prioritizing. If you have dozens or even hundreds of notes, prioritizing which tasks will be completed, incubated or trashed can get out of hand. Therefore, it’s essential to create categories for your tasks that make sense and work for you.

For example, I organize my personal and work notes in 6 general “buckets”:

  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Contribution
  • Growth
  • Experiences
  • Other

Therefore, I only keep the most important notes and the ones that are urgent or needed for some reason. Your system may be different but I find this works well for me.


But capturing and categorizing your notes isn’t enough. It doesn’t account for the most important thing – which ones are really important and deserve to stay on your list? After all, we have 24 hours in a day and it only makes sense to spend that time wisely. This means doing the right things in the right way at the right time. Yes, as Stephen Covey says, some of them are urgent and we need to plan for them as well.

Fortunately, doing what’s important at the right time will normally reduce the number of urgent tasks down the road – after all, this is why you need a to-do list, right? Lists are meant to help you do meaningful work. And meaningful work takes time, planning and consistency.

Take action consistently

So how do you stay consistent with all the important projects in your life? They most likely require some form of daily action, or at least a regular one. Obviously, having a reminder system would help. Your calendar can do this. But it can’t do many other things. So you need a place for your projects where you can keep track of your:

  • goals
  • progress 
  • the consistent actions needed for success

However, reminders aren’t enough. Research has shown time and again that the best way to make yourself do the work involves a powerful reward system. Rewards will wire your brain for wanting more of the same which can amplify your consistency. For example, you can make a list of all the things you love spending your free time with so you always have something to celebrate all the little wins along the way to your end-goal.


The element of collaboration can be crucial for most people. Sometimes, you will need external help – whether it’s for personal or work projects. This means your system needs to accommodate for sharing notes and discussing them with team members quickly and efficiently. This is where tools like Sendtask.io can help you stay on track while seeing the big picture where both your personal and work projects are all visible on the same page.


We covered a lot of information above so let’s summarize it so it’s easy to create your productivity system with all principles in mind:

  • Capture notes quickly on mobile and in the cloud
  • Categorize notes based on a logic that works for you
  • Prioritize according to importance and urgency
  • Stay consistent with reminders and rewards
  • Have a system that allows for effective collaboration


The most important thing for developing your system is to experiment. Presented above are powerful principles grounded in both science and experience. Of course, things work differently depending on your individual situation and preferences. So when you’re browsing for apps the next time, make sure they fit your system and not the other way around. This is the best way to improve productivity using software.