How to create an effective PDF to-do list.

Discover effective ways to create to-do lists that can help you to get tasks done and learn how PDFs can be used for this purpose.

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Crumpled paper on a blackboard with the words "when, why, what, who, where, how" surrounding a lightbulb.

The power of PDF to-do list.

If your to-do list isn’t helping you to get things done, it’s time for a change. To-do lists shouldn’t make you feel overwhelmed or guilty in any way if you have any delays. They should make you feel like you’ve accomplished something and that you’re on track and getting somewhere.

We’ve put together a few tips and techniques to help get you started on creating an effective to-do list in PDF format that will help you to get things done — whether you’re writing to-do lists for personal or professional use.

Manage the content of to-do lists.

To-do lists can easily get out of hand when the content of them is too long. To-do lists can also fall by the wayside if they’re not broken down into smaller achievable steps.

Three illustrations depicting people organising their time and tasks by using a checklist on a smartphone.

Brainstorm, then split it into manageable lists.

Start by thinking about and writing out everything you want to do — but don’t leave it as one long daunting and overwhelmingly long list! After you’ve got everything out of your head that you need to do, then sort and rearrange your tasks into smaller manageable to-do lists.

You might want to have to-do lists that contain tasks categorised by timeframes — such as tasks to complete this week, this month or this year. Or by project — such as developing a new business plan, planning a party or event or undertaking a home renovation project.

Limit your list to tasks.

Make sure that everything on your to-do list is task specific. You might have an overriding goal or outcome, but everything you include in an itemised list should be something that contributes to that goal. Limit your to-do lists to things you can accomplish now, tomorrow or in a month. That will help to break down your long-term goals into smaller steps that you can cross off as you go.

How to create a PDF to-do list.

There are several ways to easily create PDF to-do lists.

Laptop computer displaying the logo of an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

Create to-do lists that are easy to follow.

Make your to-do lists quick and easy to read and update. That way you’re more likely to refer to them and work through the tasks you’ve listed. There are a few techniques that you can use to create a to-do list that is easy to follow.

Use your verbs.

We learn it from a young age — verbs are the doing words. They’re all about taking action. Make use of that to remind yourself what you need to do when you itemise your tasks. Don’t just write down what the subject of the task is, start it with a verb that describes what you need to do to achieve the task. For example —

  • Paint fence
  • Call suppliers
  • Pick up groceries
  • Design a digital business card

Use colour.

Use colour for headings and/or to colour code different categories on a list. For example —

  • Red text is a colour often used to draw attention to urgent tasks.
  • Red is also effective to show you have completed a task.

Use fonts, icons and images effectively.

Choose a typeface that is easy to read, but also reflects the context or theme of your tasks. Include icons or images to depict what you want to achieve. For example —

Screenshot showing a sample to-do list for an Australia Day Beach Party open in Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Use numbering for tasks that need to be done first.

Add a numbering for to-do lists with tasks that should be done in a particular order. There are a few ways to create numbered lists in PDFs. For example —

A screenshot showing a to-do list sample with the numbered tasks open in Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Make space for updates.

Include space for updates and notes, especially if you’re working on a to-do list for a project that may take a week or a month to achieve. That way you can update your list with notes and still have the feeling of making progress. For example —

A screenshot of a sample Bathroom Renovation to-do list updated with tasks completed and the date for the plumber and builder.

Make to-do lists easy to access.

Make your to-do list easy to access. If you keep it somewhere where you’re not going to refer to that often, chances are you’ll eventually forget that you created it in the first place.

  • Printed to-do lists — The advantage of printing a to-do list onto paper is you can put it on the wall, the fridge or have it beside you on your desk as a visual reminder of what needs to be done.
  • Electronic to-do lists — Electronic to-do lists, especially PDF files, are portable. You can access them from various devices to refer to while you’re out and about, in meetings or while shopping. To make electronic and PDF to-do lists even easier to access, create shortcuts to the document on your desktop or the home screen of your phone.

Interact with your to-do list.

Interact and engage with the content of your to-do list regularly. Treat a to-do list as a living document that you review and update regularly. And don’t forget to tick off task items as you complete them — there’s nothing quite like that satisfying feeling of ticking something to say “job done” at the end of the day!