Let me paint you a picture—figuratively of course. You spend the day busting your ass only to feel like you didn’t move the needle.

You still have a gargantuan to-do list that you can’t tackle because, hey, you have to eat and sleep sometime. So, you feel somewhat grumpy and restless as you call it quits for the day.

Well, you probably did plenty—you just don’t know it.

Dump Your Unlimited To-Do List

No matter what, you won’t reach your goals if you keep moving the posts—especially if you’re not setting them in your sights in the first place.

By not defining a clear goal for the day, you’re setting yourself up for that dreaded feeling of oh, shit, in the evening.

Of course, it isn’t realistic to expect we’ll meet our broader goals like getting a promotion, learning an instrument, or training to be the top cat herder in a day. However, using a daily to-do list, we create a mini-scope of work for ourselves to work towards our larger targets.

Along the way, getting things done and feeling good about it will keep us motivated, but not if we don’t keep track of our progress. Keeping tabs on what we’ve done also comes with another benefit — knowing when it’s time to take a break.

Write Out a Set Amount of Tasks Per Day

No goal is complete without a unit of measurement you can use to track it.

In 1918 a productivity consultant named Ivy Lee told a team of business executives at Bethlehem Steel Corporation to write out six tasks each evening. They were to write them out in order of importance, and the next day they were to focus on getting them done one at a time.

Lee didn’t charge the company’s president, Charles M. Schwab, for his consultation, but after three months, Schwab was so impressed with this idea he sent him a cheque for $25,000, which is worth far more these days.

This method is helpful in picking the most meaningful tasks and prioritizing them. You know exactly where to start and what to do next instead of feeling lost or overwhelmed in a sea of to-dos. However, since you’re not listing ten or eighteen tasks, you want to make sure the six will hold an impact.

You want to avoid listing things that take minimal time and items that may qualify as daily habits like checking your emails and walking the dog—in that case, you may want a habit tracker.

Think of tasks like preparing your expense report, organizing the filing cabinet, or going shopping. If it’s humongous, break it into pieces and if you can’t get everything done that day, don’t worry. Carry it forward the next day.

Don’t Keep Adding to Your List

Adding tasks to your to-do list once it’s complete is kind of like a Peanuts comic strip. You’re Charlie Brown, and your personal time is the football. At the same time, you’re Lucy and you’re yoinking that ball—or that chance to eat a proper meal, relax, or enjoy a hobby—away from yourself.

Once your list is complete, catch up with your friends, catch up on yourself, and if you need to be present at work until a specific time, catch up on emails or small tasks.

If you find tasks on your list keep carrying over to the next day, do those to get them off your list. It could also be the case that the item isn’t that meaningful, and you can scratch it off in a let’s not and say we did manner.

Celebrate Your Wins

Why not try the Ivy Lee Method to see if it improves your to-do list? It works whether you’re a pen and paper person or you prefer a to-do list app.

I even wrote this article at MUO on how to use the Ivy Lee Method in Notion and ClickUp.

No matter how you plan your to-do list, stop moving your goal posts and give yourself a break.