Is there such a thing as the perfect to do list? We’d all love to know what it looks like, but there doesn’t seem to be one. Run a search on to do lists and you’ll find as many lists as there are results – everyone has their own strategy for writing one.

As it turns out, the perfect to do list is the one that works for you, whether you make it first thing in the morning or the night before. Let’s take a look at the most popular tips and lists to see if any make the cut:

1. Action-oriented

This list consists of no more than three tasks, prioritized according to what they will help you achieve. Frame your tasks as specific accomplishments not vague suggestions.

2. Comprehensive

This list includes everything that needs your attention – personal, professional, social. Sort your tasks into categories, prioritise, action and eliminate.

Image of a woman holding a to-do list, used for A perfect to do list blog

3. If-then lists

According to studies, these can help your brain ‘detect and seize opportunity for action.’ If it’s Monday, I must work on improving productivity; if it’s Tuesday, I must answer all emails, etc.

Download Office in a backpack ebook

4. Lists with sections

Robert C Pozen, Harvard Business School, recommends dividing your list into two sections: a chronological section of things to do and another of what you hope to achieve. List non-priority tasks for the day under the two main lists so you can use them as filler during any downtime.

5. Timed Lists

A ‘time-driven’ to do list can help you ‘make realistic decisions about how much you can fit in your day,’ says Omar Kilani of Remember the Milk. Make sure to include an estimate of how long you expect each task to take.

6. Apps

Remember the Milk, Asana, ClickUp, Todoist and Trello are just a few to do apps available. They seem to work on the principle that it is immensely satisfying to make a list of everything you need to do.

You can add tasks on the go, snooze them or be nagged. But as one study showed, that doesn’t mean you actually get things done. Google is hoping to replace the to do list with a ‘GPS for life’ – a ‘know-it-all’ task manager in the clouds. But that's another story.

7. Paper Lists & Planners

Meanwhile, like Benjamin Franklin, many people still swear by the flexibility and speed of using pen and paper, anytime, anywhere. Besides, you’re more likely to remember tasks you’ve written down yourself.

The perfect to do list

We don’t know for sure who wrote the first to do list but we’re certainly stuck with them. And we’re still waiting for the perfect one: the chip in your arm that tells you exactly what you must do when you walk into a room at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, says David Allen, the time management guru at GettingThingsDone.

Until then, we'll just have to make do.

Download our guide to running your business from anywhere