The Best To-Do List You'll Ever Make

Last Updated May 25, 2010 4:18 PM EDT

Ever get to the end of a day and feel like you didn't really accomplish anything? Or, worse, discover that the really important tasks didn't get done? I think this happens when we have too many distractions, too much miscellany pulling us in different directions all day.

I'm a big believer in to-do lists, but beware the Dark Side: a list that's too long will seem overwhelming, and may actually do more harm than good. ("Ahhh! I'll never get all this done!")

That's why I've become a religious practitioner of the three-item to-do list. Here's how it works:

  1. Each morning, starting with a small, blank sheet of paper, write down three important tasks that need doing.
  2. Do the first task. Cross it off.
  3. Do the second task. Cross it off.
  4. Do the third task. Cross it off.
  5. Crumple up your to-do sheet and throw it away.
I find this entire process immensely satisfying. For starters, a three-item list seems very manageable. Doesn't matter how busy I am, I know I can accomplish at least those three things.

What's more, it may sound silly, but drawing a line through a completed task feels really good -- much better than clicking a checkbox in Outlook or an online to-do list. And at the end of the day, crumpling up that sheet makes me feel accomplished -- even if I have 10 other tasks that didn't get done.

I've also found that this lowers my overall stress level. It makes the day seem less...insurmountable. Try it every day for a week and see if you don't become a convert.

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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.