How to make a to-do task list that you'll actually use.

Incomplete jobs can pile up into a mountain of tasks. Climb that peak with an effective and actionable to-do list.      

A woman in a blue shirt holding a cup of coffee working on a to-do list on her laptop.

The mighty to-do list. 


Whether they’re for work or home, to-do lists and to-do list apps can be either a helpful tool or morale-sapping punishment. For many people on the go, simple agendas like grocery lists emerge naturally, getting jotted down on scrap paper or stuck to a computer monitor on a sticky note. But when it comes to task lists for work that keep project teams on deadline, itemized task lists with checkboxes can be incredibly helpful — if they’re done right.


Bypass the tedium to create better to-dos by learning the best ways to assign yourself work and organize your thoughts. Learn how to motivate yourself to make lists that get the job done on your way to becoming an artist of the task management variety.



Steps to make an effective list. 


A to-do list forms the final step of a productivity pipeline. Many people get buried under their lists because they don’t have the best time management skills, or they struggle with organizing their workflow. Thus, to-do lists become unactionable and rage out of control, compounding tasks to make them seem impossibly large. 



Start with intake.


The first thing you have to do to conquer your pile of undone tasks is deal with the inbox — email or otherwise. If you’ve got a big heap of undone tasks on your desk, step one is get organized. One effective way to deal with work is the GTD (getting things done) method, popularized by David Allen. In the GTD method, you take your big pile of work or tasks, and you do everything that takes 10 minutes or less.



Categorize, categorize, categorize. 


Before you can start making to-do lists, you need to set priorities for all of your tasks. If you have a big home renovation project that you’re working on, for example, it’s likely going to have quite a few steps that need to get done before the whole project is complete. So, just putting “Renovate house” on a to-do list is not particularly helpful


Breaking your tasks into different phases can be a helpful method. For instance, create categories for things that need to be done today, by the end of the week, and by the end of the month. Also, have categories for things that are dependent on others before you can work on them yourself, as well as activities whose deadlines you don’t know yet.



Generate the five-item to-do list.


An efficient to-do list never has more than five items on it at a time. Look to your categories, and find the most important tasks for this week. Then break out those items into subtasks that are actionable for that day. For example, on the home renovation task described earlier, an example task could be “Contact an electrician.” It’s actionable, and it’s also possible to accomplish within the time frame.


To-do lists don’t have to be complicated—you don’t need to go overboard with notifications and due dates. But if they help, by all means, use all the tools available to you to keep on task. Todoist, Omnifocus, Microsoft To Do,, Remember the Milk, Google Tasks, and many other mobile apps on iOS and other platforms are a great place to start. However, the best to-do list apps and the best productivity apps are the ones you use. Or you can print them out if you prefer a physical object to work with.       

A pink laptop with a to-do list open on the screen against a red gradient background.

Take the list to the next level with Adobe Acrobat.


If you’re looking to up your to-do list game, Adobe Acrobat DC is here to help. With collaboration features for multiple people, you can share documents and to-do lists in the cloud. For instance, if you want to make a to-do list for your team members, simply create a shared PDF. PDFs are easily editable with Acrobat and can be converted to other formats with ease so anyone can use them and contribute.

With Adobe tools and their cloud functionality, you can access to-do lists offline or on any Wi-Fi-connected device, from an iPhone to a Windows desktop. Plus, there are hundreds of templates available to get you started. Discover more about how you can use PDFs to facilitate your productivity — even if it’s just to streamline holiday planning or your next shopping list.        

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