The Daily Todo List

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

A daily todo list is the quicklest and most simple way to increase your productivity and only requires a few minutes of effort! It’s a habit anyone can start without any setup and will instantly help you get more done. Even after 15 years of GTD under my belt I often turn to a simple daily todo list to help me stay productive.

This post will discuss how you can start making a quick daily todo list in the morning and have a huge impact on your productivity.

What is a Daily Todo List?

A daily todo list, is a simple list of tasks that you may or may not complete that day, ordered and showing the time of scheduled tasks. It is a suggested road map through the day that you can use to arrive at your desired end point.

How to Make a Daily Todo List

  1. Write down any scheduled tasks you have – these may come from your calendar, a note book or diary or just tasks you know you have to do that day
  2. Add the times of scheduled tasks
  3. Write down any other tasks you would like or need to do that day – This is much easier if you have a master action list like in a GTD system but you can do it just from your mind if needs be.
  4. Order them – This is the magic in a daily todo system (see below).

The Three Types of Daily Todo List Task

  • Scheduled Tasks – Some thing that has to be done a certain time, an appointment or scheduled meeting
  • Day Specific Tasks – Something you need to do that day at any time, a workout, following up with someone, writing
  • Anytime Tasks – Any task that doesn’t need to be done that day e.g. practice a foreign language

These three types of task do not represent importance. You may have a scheduled meeting that you know is a waste of time but you are required to attend. You may also want to go to the cinema with your son, which you could do any day.

Rather than importance these three types of task represent urgency, which can help us when we come to planning our day and making our daily todo list.

Ordering Your Daily Todo List

Order your daily todo list by writing a number next to each task, this is the order you will do the tasks. This is where the real magic happens!

Of course there is some real benefit to just having a list of tasks for the day. But it’s easy to look at a list and just go numb to it. You try to decide which task to do but then give up and give in to procrastination. This is why we order our list!

Ordering your list is not only a way of prioritizing your tasks but also of limiting what you see when you look at the daily todo list. Instead of seeing a list of 6 tasks, now you’re just seeing the one task you need to do next. There is no decision to make. You just see that the fourth task is next to do so you can do it with out needing to think.

Be Specific

Being specific when writing your daily todo list will also reduce the amount of decisions and thinking you need to do during the day.

If you’re laptop is broken writing something like “deal with laptop” is not specific. When you come to that task, you still need to decide how you’re going to deal with it. Are you going to take it to the repair shop? Are you going to buy a new one? Make that decision in the morning when you write the list instead of when you should be doing the task.

Writing a specific task forces you to make the decision then when you are still fresh and have the mental capacity to do so. Trying instead to make that decision 4pm will be much more difficult when you’re toast.

Why You Need a Daily Todo List

Decision Fatigue

daily Todo List

In Willpower: Rediscover the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister shows that our willpower is not only in limited supply but also that it can be eroded by difficult decisions or stressful situations. Strangely however, the book shows that increasing blood sugar can increase you supply of willpower. So keep snacks around when you need a boost!

It is for this reason that people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs chose to wear the same thing everyday. It was one less decision they had to make. They could save that willpower and decision making for something more important later in the day.

So make your decisions when you still have the mental capacity to do so.


In this article on procrastination by one of the ways suggested to overcome procrastination is to “Carefully choose which task you do first.” In making a daily todo list this is done when you order your tasks.

Another reason people tend to procrastinate is that they don’t know how to do their tasks. This is due to not being specific enough. “Get Supplements” is not something you can do yet, “Get Cod Liver Oil” is something you can do right now. The difference between the two tasks is only a few seconds of extra consideration. But without it could cause days of procrastination.


Seeing 5 of the 6 things on your daily todo list is the best motivator to finish number 6!

As you start checking off the tasks you have done momentum that build up. This momentum almost starts to push you towards those last few tasks. When everything is checked off the satisfaction that it generates is also motivating to do the same thing again tomorrow. This creates a positive feedback loop that will spiral you up.

You Don’t Have to Complete Everything

Remember this daily todo list is simply a suggested route through your day. Don’t think of it as a list of tasks that must be completed today.

I frequently have days when I can’t get to anything on my list. I get an email or skype call and 3 new projects and have no time to work on my list items. This is not a source of stress for me though, as I know that the list is just a suggestion. If I get to the tasks, great! If I have something more important or urgent to do that’s great too. Either way I am staying productive and never have to not know what to do.

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