Raise your hand if you have a mile-long to-do list with tasks that get carried over day after day after day? Raise your hand if you write (even more) stuff onto your to-do list just so you can say you got it done? Raise your hand if hardly any of your to-dos ever seem to get to-done?

First of all, we get it. Everybody’s lives seem to be busier than ever these days—with to-do lists that get longer and longer, but the same amount of hours in every day!

Secondly, we can help. Start by scheduling time in your Day Designer to sit down and plan out what needs to get done and when. Set aside time at the beginning of every month and/or on Sunday evenings (or whenever works best for you) to go through the steps below. Yes, you’re planning time to plan—but we guarantee it will help you save time later.

We believe that to-do lists are incredibly valuable—but only if they actually help you get stuff done! Here are five more tips to help ensure your to-do list is working for you, and not the other way around.

Start With Your Immoveable Commitments

What are the meetings, calls, appointments, and obligations that simply have to happen? We’re talking about the Monday morning staff meetings, soccer practices, and dentists appointments that you need to plan your life around. Are there any meetings that are recurring? Make special note of those too! Mark these “immoveable meetings” in your planner first, so you don’t forget them and so you know how many additional hours you have in the day to get stuff done.

Write It All Down

Now, braindump everything you have to do. Don’t try to decide what has to happen tomorrow or what’s the most important first step—just get everything out of your head and onto paper. Check your emails and text messages for plans you may have made and forgotten about. Take a look at big projects you want to complete in the next few weeks, few months, or even in the next year and break them down into smaller tasks. What can you get done now to help further your progress on those projects? Write it all down, so it lives outside of your head and right where you can see—and schedule—it.

You Can Only Have One Priority

Here’s the thing about priorities—somewhere along the way, we collectively decided that we can have more than one. But a priority, by definition, is one singular thing. While there may be a lot on your plate, it’s helpful to focus on the one thing that needs to get done to make your day (or your week or your month) a success. We promise we’ll let you think of more priorities after that! So now that you have a list of everything that you need to do, decide on your priority for every day: What is the one thing that, if you did it, would make your day? Are there certain tasks or activities that have a domino effect: in other words, if you did this one thing, it would take care of a few things at once? Identify your priorities, so you know where to focus the majority of your focus, time, and willpower.

Do The Hardest Thing First

Speaking of willpower, we all have a finite amount of it. At the beginning of every day, we’re fresh, focused, motivated, and ready to take on whatever life is ready to throw at us. But by day’s end (or really, by 3pm), that willpower has waned. It’s harder to get motivated, make decisions, and get stuff done. Gain motivation early-on by accomplishing a few easy things—even just making your bed and prepping meals for the day can count. But then complete the task that’s hardest for you; the task you know you won’t want to touch by day’s end. Often, this is the task that gets carried over on your to-do list day after day, because you never want to do it . . . but it still needs to get done. Do that hard thing first—when your willpower is still strong—and the rest of the day will seem to be a breeze.

Figure Out What’s Next

Okay, you’ve done the hardest thing and you know your top priority after that—they may even be the same thing!—but what comes after you accomplish all of that? Once those big tasks are off your plate, what needs your attention next? Go back to your braindump list, and pick the next three things you’d like to get done this week (or today). What are the next highest priorities and/or the next “hardest tasks” on the list? Figure out the next important things to do and schedule them into your day next. If at all possible, cap the list at three; we’re all pretty good at overestimating what we can get done in a day, but three is a doable amount for most everybody. If you keep the to-do list realistic, you’re more likely to get it all done, feel a sense of accomplishment, and be ready to tackle what’s next on tomorrow’s to-do list!

What’s your favorite “from to-do to to-done” list tip? Will you be incorporating any suggestions from today’s post? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!