How Many Items Should Be On Your To-Do List?

There are many valuable things in this world you can create or buy more of, but time is not one of them.

If you’re one of those people that occasionally gets into the “I’m going to conquer the world today!” mood and you set goals and make long lists accordingly, you’re probably keenly aware of just how scarce time can be. Or perhaps, like many of us, you just struggle with to-do lists in general and want to get better at developing your productivity skills. You’re not sure what the best way to make a to-do list is, you don’t know how long to make it, and you’re not sure which items to include or how to break them down. 

The good news? If you’re asking how to make a better to-do list and you’re trying to dial in the right length for a to-do list, you’re on the right track. Strategically designing your to-do list has everything to do with making the most of your time and maximizing your personal productivity. In this article we’ll talk about how long and how detailed the ideal to-do list is.

How Many Items Should Be On Your To Do List?

Smaller is better. The most ideal to-do list for any given day should have between 1-5 items on it. 

For most people, the purpose of having a to-do list is so that they can get more done in a day and not neglect important tasks. That in mind, it follows that having an extensive to-do list full of every tiny task will give you a satisfying sense of accomplishment as you tick off each and every box, but also might draw you away to get lost in the weeds. You could get so focused on knocking out all the small and unimportant projects that you lose sight of the most important to-dos that you really need to take care of. So it’s better to have a small list of to-dos that actually gets done than a long list of to-dos that doesn’t. 

Additionally, many list makers find it useful to prioritize their to-dos by urgency or by difficulty. One of the genius features of the Todo Cloud to-do list app is in how it enables you to easily assign priority levels to you tasks. Geographical or time triggered reminders and alerts also help you get things done at a specific time or place so you don’t have to worry about it all day. 

This can be especially convenient if you like the idea of the 1-3-5 To-do list. Alex Cavoulacus, founder of The Muse strives to live by the 1-3-5 rule. Each day your to-do list should consist of 9 items. 1 large to-do, 3 medium to-dos, and 5 small to-dos. The method of organizing tasks and designating list length is a great compromise between keeping an eye on small tasks that you might forget about without getting completely lost in them.

Get your time estimates right

Be Realistic About Time Constraints

One productivity hack that can help you set goals and plan better is the practice of allotting a dollar amount to your time. Time is a constraint, limiting the amount of to-dos you can accomplish. Be aware of how valuable your time is and what you’re giving it to. 

Each day we are allotted 1,440 minutes. If you get your 8 hours of sleep each night that leaves you with 960 minutes. 960 minutes to eat, shower, work out, check your email, listen to podcasts, appease your boss, check investments, and accomplish every other thing on your to-do list. In order to get all of those things done, we have to be realistic with time and its constraints. Avoid the temptation to set overly optimistic time estimates and over-schedule.

At the end of the day, if you have under-scheduled and have extra time then by all means go ahead, add more tasks, or spend some hours relaxing. Good for you! Ending the day with things left undone on your daily list however is fatal to overall productivity. You need wins each day, and scheduling proper amounts of tasks allows us to win every evening when we see that we checked every box on our list. Be realistic with yourself, set appropriate goals, then go out and accomplish them. You have 960 minutes to check off every todo, use your allotted time to your advantage and win the day.

Optimize Task Granularity

Granularity is the scale or level of detail present in any set of data. In a to-do list, the level of granularity dictates how detailed and specific the different parts of the task are. E.g.:”Task: Set up the new Wifi”, vs. “Task 1: Read the instruction for the wifi, Task 2: Unpack the router, Task 3: Plug it in and set up the account.” So let’s talk about the level of detail in our to-do lists. 

For complex, uncomfortable, stressful tasks that you dread taking on, break down the job into lots of smaller digestible jobs that are less intimidating. For example, “build the website” could be broken down into “gather pictures to use on site”, “write the about us page”, and “write 4 paragraphs to put on homepage”. Giving yourself lots of little specific checkpoints on the way will keep your energy up and keep your sights focused on what you need to do next so you can get it over with as quickly as possible.

For easier tasks that don’t require as much thought or effort, you can save time and save space on your to-do list by turning the task granularity dial down to relatively low. 

Whether you’re using the super smart Todo Cloud to-do list, a reminders app or just a regular paper and pencil, getting the right number of items on your list, being realistic about time estimates  and dialing in your task granularity will help you blow through that list of tasks and project like a champion. If you have any additional suggestions or thoughts we’d love to hear from you in the comments!