Constructing a To-Do List That You’ll Actually Do

I love being organized. I’m the first of my friends to start a group chat for Friday night plans, and I adore a good Powerpoint presentation. My favourite means of organizing my thoughts is the classic to-do list. Classic they may be, to-do lists are often misused. There is the assumption that simply writing a to-do list will result in the completion of tasks. However, because they are often not well-constructed, to-do lists can result in procrastination. Here, I will share a tried and true method of to-do list making that I have devised after my personal failed list attempts.

First off, why to-do lists? Lists are a fantastic means of getting tasks out of our heads and into action. They localize upcoming projects into one physical representation, they serve as a big-picture depiction of what needs to be accomplished, and they are completely customizable.

You might be asking yourself, “what else is there to learn about writing a to-do list?” Although to-do lists are subjective, there are some universally-helpful tips and tricks for everyone to experiment with. Below, I will outline a simple, yet effective, method. This approach is called, Vomit and PET, or V-PET. Yes, it’s not the hottest name, but it’s super catchy so you will remember it the next time you make a #vpet list.

This method involves a pen, two pieces of paper, and some critical thinking. Here’s how it goes:

  1. First, create a table with four columns. Each of these columns will have a heading: V, P, E, and T.
  2. “V” column: write out a complete list of anything and everything that comes to mind. This is the word-vomiting. Feeding the cat? On there. Reading five books? Add it. Meal prepping for the week? Jot it down. In no particular order, make a list of all tasks.
  3. “P” column: label the tasks in terms of priority. Indicate this using low, medium, and high, or number them off. Although I wouldn’t hold off on feeding the cat, remember that this process is completely subjective.
  4. “E” column: indicate how much effort each task takes. This translates into how much time it takes to complete the task. Take into account your skills and current mental, physical, and emotional state.
  5. “T” column: indicate what the deadline is for each item. This column depends on how much time you realistically have, as well as hard deadlines that you might have to abide by.
  6. Finally, use another paper to make a master list that takes into account all of the above. The combination of the PET columns will help you order tasks in terms of how important they are, how much time they take, and how much time you have.

Let’s just say that the five books you have to read are part of an assignment due in two months. You know that reading one book takes you a week, so you budget around five weeks. However, this assignment is for a class that is important for your GPA. This means that this task is high priority, low effort, and has a far-away deadline. You decide to devote more time to it, because it is high priority, and you bump it up on your master list. This is an example of the outcome of the V-PET chart; a critical thought process leading to realistic standards. This is also the reason why V-PET works. Being realistic about your priorities, the time a task can take, and your deadlines is what separates a well-made to-do list from the ones that end up in the recycling.

I recommend keeping your original V-PET chart because tasks can change and priorities may shift. Life moves quickly, and what is true today can shift tomorrow. Referring back to your V-PET chart can help in re-assessing when new tasks come up. The beauty of this method is that while it takes a couple more minutes than a traditional to-do list, it is definitely worth it. Using this to-do list method takes into account all of the varying difficulties involved in daily chores and assignments, giving you a well-rounded to-do list by the end. I hope this method, or at least portions of it, assists you in your journey towards productivity.

Good luck, and happy organizing!

A V-PET chart made using the examples in this post.

This is what your final to-do list, the master list, might look like.



















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