How to make an effective list & achieve goals

There is a difference between a to-do list and an effective list.

Many of us make lists but when it comes to an effective list that helps you move the needle and achieve your goal, there is a bit more to it.

Once you know what you want to achieve and have written down your goal you can start the daily process of chipping away at, or moving the needle closer to actually achieving your goal.

The next step is to break down your goal into steps or chunks, basically creating a list of what needs to be done.

Once you have done this, you will no doubt have a massive list and it may consist of all the small things you’d like to achieve, but don’t fall prey to the endless to-do list syndrome. If you add so many tasks to your to-do list you end up doing only the easiest ones.


Studies have shown that our conscious mind can only process between five to nine concepts, or pieces of information at a time, a phenomenon called “channel capacity” (first identified by psychologist George A. Miller in 1956.)

Regardless of what you are dealing with, your working memory can only store a limited amount of data at any given time.

Too many tasks can make you feel overwhelmed and most of us take the easiest task on the list if any. Knowing this explains why trying to tackle too many tasks at once can be ineffective.

Organising effectively means prioritising your tasks by making a list of the 3 Most Important tasks (MIT’s) that you want to achieve. When identifying these MIT’s, consider the 80/20 rule and focus on the 20% of your actions that will create 80% of the outcomes. Focus on the few highest leverage activities you can.

Once you have identified just 3 MIT’s, pick the ONE thing that absolutely needs to be done and will have the biggest effect on the goal (kind of like using the 80/20 rule again to further prioritise).

By doing this, you’ll be sure to focus on the absolute most important task and you will be less likely to forget or push aside a task that might be more difficult in favour of an easier task.

This method has additional benefits because instead of feeling overwhelmed, you’ll find increased confidence in being able to accomplish all your stated goals.

Effective List Rules:

  • Don’t make the mistake of listing a big, complex project as one item. Instead, find smaller and more manageable tasks within the big project that you can add to the list.
  • Prioritise and schedule wisely. Time blocking is a great strategy. Once you have identified the MIT, dedicate a certain block of time to it. Don’t pick a random time, try and identify a block of time that you can get it done AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Get it out of the way! Brian Tracey wrote a whole best selling book about the benefits of getting the hardest thing out of the way as soon as possible (Eat that frog).
  • Identify your most important task for tomorrow the night before. This gives your brain a bit of time to work on this and accept it while you sleep.
  • Write it down. When you wake up (and you completed step 3 the night before), you will know exactly what you need to achieve. Write it down. Putting your plan on paper is about more than just remembering what to do. Writing activates a specific part of your brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). This area acts as a filter and puts important information, such as the things you write down, at the forefront of your mind.

So with a prioritised, written plan of attack, you’ll be ready to conquer the day ahead!

The points mentioned in this article have been reinforced by people that have achieved tremendous levels of success. I leave you with two examples:

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the former Apple CEO, used to gather his top 100 people each year to brainstorm ideas. He would then ask;

“What are the most important 10 things we need to do now?” Everyone would rush to offer suggestions, then when there were 10, Jobs would slash through the bottom 7 and announce: “We can only do 3.”


Tim Ferriss (as per Mixergy interview)

“Do 80/20 analysis constantly, so to analyze also the 20% of people or activities that are creating 80+% of my stress, consuming 80+% of my time, and as is almost always the case, the stuff that was consuming the most time did not overlap very much with the 20% that was most important.
On a regular schedule you’ll sit and do that 80/20 analysis and ask yourself what’s the 20% of my life that’s getting me the most impact, the 80% impact, and how do I stop doing the rest.
Look at the 20% that are the highest leverage positive things and I’ll focus on those. I’ll look at then the 20% most negative things that are consuming the most time, and try to eliminate those. There’s quite a bit in-between that in the end, often takes care of itself, but really keeping your eye ball of your to-do list are the 80-20 positive, and the not-to-do list for the 80-20 negative is huge.
When I’m really feeling overwhelmed, I actually focus on the negative, which is a good thing. I focus on eliminating as much as possible before I focus on doing more. What can I get rid of? What are the psychic anchors, which are like, tethering me to the ground where I’m trying to sprint forward, but I’m just dragging this weight behind me. I focus on a massive elimination first. I try to remove as much as possible so that I have fewer moving pieces to think about. So elimination is a huge part of why I get anything done.”