Have you identified a to-do list app to manage tasks productively, or are you searching for the right one?

Regardless of where you are on this particular journey, there are best practices to help reap the benefits of a to-do list app and subsequently, increase productivity. Otherwise, these tools can in fact have the opposite effect and damage productivity.

It goes without saying that to-do list apps are productivity gems. Just keep the following best practices in mind at all times when utilizing one.

If it takes less than 2 minutes to complete the task then do it now

This is a famous rule enlisted by David Allen in his best-selling book, Getting Things Done.

With relevance to a to-do list app and managing tasks productively: the time taken to log a task with its necessary details, must not be close to or greater than the time taken to get the task out the way immediately. 

For example, if there are questions in an important email requiring your attention, and you can answer those questions within 2 minutes, then reply right away. This is more efficient, versus identifying the email and spending more than 2 minutes filing it as a task with a due date, priority, label, any useful notes, etc. Needless to say, you still need to reply to that email later!

Select the to-do list app that works for you and stick to it

Don’t pick the prettiest to-do list app or the one that appears at the top of the Google search results. Choose the one that “you” are happy with, knowing that you’ll enjoy it and not see it as a burden.

Test several of the best to-do list apps on the market, and compare them first if needed. Take note of factors such as: limitations, pricing, simplicity, speediness of entering tasks, and cross-platform support (i.e. mobile apps, desktop browser apps, etc.).

Enter tasks and not goals or major milestones

Having anything more than tasks and associated details in your to-do list app, will lead to idle content that’s in the way and causing distractions. Objectives, goals, projects and milestones need treating separately. Although, you can breakdown these larger items into numerous small tasks if it makes sense to do so.

Bear in mind that the best to-do list apps are lean by design. They’re not meant to be enterprise workflow management solutions containing advanced project management and automation features.

Review and maintain your to-do list 2-3 times per day according to a schedule

The effective approach to manage tasks productively, is to review your to-do list in the morning (after your pre-work routine), before/after lunch (for minor changes), and at the end of the working day.

If 3 times per day is too much of a commitment, then at minimum you need to review it 2 times – in morning and at the end of the day. The purpose of the morning review is to refresh your memory of what tasks need working on and/or completing for the day ahead. The end of day review is a little more involved, since you need to update existing tasks, in addition to entering any new tasks to plan ahead.

By having a schedule to maintain your task management data against, it’ll soon become second nature and you’ll take more ownership of completing your tasks.

Ensure all tasks have due dates

A task without a due date is easy to overlook, or it could just occupy space in your app without getting any attention. Should the task even make it onto your to-do list? It’s a bad habit to exclude a due date, and there are no excuses when it takes less than 5 seconds upon adding a task. The habit you need to create is simple: add a task > select the due date.

Tasks with due dates enable better organization and prioritization of your workload, and with that, you’ll manage tasks productively. Furthermore, at some point (and if not by default), you’ll definitely want to sort tasks by due date. This is a critical method to visualizing what needs completing sooner rather than later.

Create a clear structure for organizing tasks and lists

Use the relevant features of the best to-do list apps to avoid becoming disorganized and creating a mess. Tags, categories, folders, groups, priorities, etc. Having a lucid structure and layout is crucial for when you add and manage tasks productively.

From the very start, invest some time in implementing a structure that enables you to document and store tasks and lists in a way that’s easy for you to follow and maintain.

This is not a repetitive job – do it properly before you begin logging tasks, and it will make life easier in the long run. As you become acquainted with your chosen tool, you might want to only tweak the structure here and there to further boost productivity.


As the founder of LessBizy, Dean is obsessed with productivity and credits the majority of his career "wins" to maximizing it where possible. In the last 10 years, Dean has continually explored and implemented small and large changes to increase his own productivity, as well as helped teams and other individuals to do the same. Dean's background is in technology consulting, project management and operations transformation, and during the past 5 years he's held senior leadership roles for various large multi-national companies.

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