The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your To-Do List

Taking a cue from Marie Kondo, you can declutter your task list in the same way she tidies physical belongings.

tidying to-do list productivity

Your to-do list is an extension of your mind. It’s the spare room where you keep tomorrow’s work tucked away so you can focus on what’s in front of you today.

But just like a spare room, if you don’t regularly tidy up your list, things get cluttered. Instead of being a reliable source of to-dos, it becomes a task in itself to sort through the mess and figure out what to work on next. A tidy task list does more than just improve productivity — it benefits your mental clarity, decision-making, and even your mood.

Taking a cue from Marie Kondo’s excellent The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you can declutter your task list in the same way she tidies physical belongings: by establishing a few simple, organizational habits.

So get started by following along with Marie’s Konmari system: The to-do list edition.

1. Set your end goal to figure out what’s worth doing

How can you know which tasks are worth doing if you don’t know where you want to go? Before you even start looking at your tasks, write down the goal you’re trying to achieve once your tasks are complete.

If you have time, Marie suggests that you write out the entire life you’d like to live. Find the medium that lets you truly envision the details. You can mind map it, draw it out, create a Pinterest board, collect Youtube videos, or brainstorm in whatever form suits you.

Create a task for your final vision in Todoist. If you have an accompanying document or image, link to it from your task or attach it to your task comments. This is your True North that will help you determine whether a task is worth doing. If you’ve written out an all-encompassing vision, break it down into several goals for each area of your life, and create a task for each.

Use your final goal to keep your tasks aimed in the right direction.
Use your final goal to keep your tasks aimed in the right direction.

2. Only keep the tasks that propel you towards your vision

Your task list, like your room, shouldn’t be crammed with random stuff. It becomes too hard to find the things that you actually need.

“Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left with only the amount that fits perfectly in the space you own.”

Right now, your Todoist may be stuffed with half-baked ideas, empty projects, and tasks you forgot to check off:

Your to-do list can get messy.

Following Marie’s system, it’s time to do a task inventory.

It’s not just Marie. David Allen, the author of Gettings Things Done, believes that organizing our life is actually a search for mental space: GTD is “more of a space management system.” Learn more about how to use GTD with Todoist.

Do a complete task inventory

When Marie Kondo arrives at a house to tidy it up, she begins by kneeling on the floor in the center of the living room to show respect for all of its belongings. From there, she helps her client begin the journey, considering each and every item in turn.

Take the same approach (kneeling optional) and do a full inventory of all the tasks and projects in your Todoist. Depending how cluttered your to-do list is, you may want to dedicate a full day or even a weekend to this endeavor. This exercise isn’t just about decluttering your to-do list — it’s about cutting away the nonessential so that the only tasks you have left are the ones that bring you closer to the life you want to live.

As you do your inventory, ask yourself: Does this task bring me closer to the life I want to live?

If the answer is no, delete it from your task list. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, then the baking classes need to be discarded. But “jog every day” and “buy a winter track suit” make the cut.

You’re going to run into tasks that you want to delete, but let’s face it, grunt work is necessary for any significant achievement. Try reframing the tasks that don’t excite you. While “run every day” may feel like a chore, “try to run a 10-minute mile today” may be a more specific and motivating challenge.

Set tasks that are specific and motivating

For work like taking out the trash, or doing your taxes, create a separate project called “responsibilities” and pare it down to the things that, while they don’t bring you joy, you just have to do anyway.

Let things go

You may have a tough time letting go of long-standing tasks on your list. Maybe you always envisioned yourself finishing that home renovation project yourself. Or maybe you don’t want to let go of your novel that hasn’t made it past the first chapter (or page). It can feel like giving up on the version of yourself you wanted to be when you added that task or project in the first place.

Marie explains that even unfinished tasks served a purpose. You’ve clarified what you actually care about, and why:

Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the precious lesson of who you do like, so that you will appreciate those.

Letting go of old tasks and projects teaches you how to create space for what’s important to you now. As you go through your old tasks, acknowledge that there was a purpose when you added it, but it’s no longer relevant to the life you’re striving for today.

Delete tasks that no longer serve your purpose

If you just can’t bring yourself to hit delete on a task and banish it from your life forever, you have the option to save it in a temporary project in Todoist. (Marie would strongly disapprove: “Storage is nothing but a cosmetic solution. You must begin by discarding!” But you should do what works best for you.)

If you’re intent on saving tasks, create a project named “Maybe later” and hide it from view by archiving it. You can always come back and unarchive it later.

If you can't bring yourself to delete a project, archive it

3. Organize your tasks to simplify the work

Ok, you’ve got the right tasks — now it’s time to sort. Says Marie:

I recommend tidying by category, not by place. For example, instead of deciding that today you’ll tidy a particular room, set goals such as ‘clothes today, books tomorrow.’

Similar to Marie’s rule that every physical item should have its place, every task on your to-do list should have its project. Group your tasks together in ways that are intuitive to you.

For instance, if your goal is to get in shape, you could begin with the “fitness” category and create a project with that name. Find every task related to your goal and move those tasks to the project.

Create a project for your goal

Repeat this for every category until your Todoist is organized into projects. For tasks that don’t fit into any of the categories you’ve identified as important, ask yourself if it still belongs on your to-do list.

At this point, it’s tempting to start creating a bunch of sub-projects that you can hide from view (like seasonal storage), but Marie advises her clients to keep everything visible all year round. Just as seeing every physical object you own keeps you from accumulating to much stuff, seeing every project you’ve committed to can be a helpful reminder to stay focused on what’s important.

Sequence, prioritize, and schedule your tasks

To help you work on these tasks later, put them in the right order, give them a priority and set due dates.

Sequence your tasks

A great way to stay in the flow of a project is to finish one task and immediately move on to the next, related task. That’s why you should take the time to sequence your tasks in a logical order before you get to work.

Rearrange tasks by dragging the handlebar to the left of each task (Web, Mac, Windows) or tapping, holding, and dragging (iOS, Android) to the right place on the list.

Drag and drop your tasks into an order that makes sense for you.
Drag and drop your tasks into an order that makes sense for you.

Prioritize your tasks

There are some tasks that are more essential to your goal than others. Set task priorities to keep track of which is which. In Todoist, priorities range from highest to lowest as P1 (red), P2 (orange), P3 (yellow), or P4 (no color). Here’s an example of how to evaluate a task’s priority level:

P1 — Must finish.

P2 — Nice to have.

P3 — Finish if there is time available.

P4 — Unnecessary. These may have snuck in through your task inventory. Delete them now.

Give each task a priority level

Schedule your tasks

Finally, set a date to complete each task. A handy tip is to make an estimate for how long a task will take to complete, and then double it. It’ll be better to overestimate and finish early than to underestimate and finish late. Give each task a due date and schedule repeating tasks with a recurring due date.

Give each task a due date or recurring due date

Learn more about projects and the most effective ways to sequence, prioritize, and schedule your tasks by using the Quick and Easy Guide to Completing a Project in Todoist.

Make sure your to-do list “sparks joy”

Aesthetics affect our mindset. When Marie does her inventory, she shows up dressed to the nines. She has carefully picked out every part of her appearance to suit the needs of the day. She takes the same approach to the space she’s reviewing.

Give Todoist a style that will to put you in a positive mindset whenever you check in. To borrow Marie’s signature phrase, make your digital task space “spark joy.” Here are a few tips:

  • Write clear, specific, and motivating project and task titles. For example, instead of naming your task “go for a jog”, try “take a morning jog through the forest” or “explore a new running route today”
  • Add text formatting and emojis to give them life: “take a morning jog through the forest 🌅🏃🌲”
  • Use a color theme that matches your style or mood
  • Arrange your projects in an intuitive way

Your Todoist is ready for action. Simply log in every day and your today view will let you know what to work on. When things get busy, you’ll be thankful that you don’t have to spend time deciding what to do on the fly. Decision fatigue is real.

4. Keep clutter at bay by cultivating new daily habits.

You’ve revamped your task list to be clearer, simpler, and more aligned with your goals. But don’t expect the work to be finished overnight.

A challenge that many people face at this point, according to Marie, is that they lose faith — “I’m just a messy person!” But that’s not the case. Being tidy is an acquired skill that must be trained, she notes:

“People cannot change their tidying habits without first changing their way of thinking.”

To keep your newly spotless task list clean, build new habits. By being vigilant about keeping things tidy, you won’t have to start the process from scratch next time.

In Todoist, this translates to asking that essential question for every new task coming into your Todoist: Does it lead to your vision? If not, discard it on the spot. If the answer is yes, add it to the proper spot on your lists.

Of course, unhelpful tasks are bound to sneak in from time to time. Weed them out with a weekly review so you start each week with a clearly prioritized to-do list. Discard useless tasks. Organize the spare tasks that have ended up in your inbox into the right projects. Have certain tasks or projects fallen out of line with your goal? Discard those, too.

Finally, check in on your final goal every few months. It’s natural for it to change as you grow and learn more about what tasks and projects truly motivate you.

If your goal changes, update your document and do a mini-inventory to re-tidy your Todoist. Over time, the goals that stand the test of time will be valuable to you, and now you’ll have the tools to achieve them in an organized way.

We spend a lot of time in digital spaces. Luckily, we can take a page from Marie Kondo’s ideas about physical space to keep our digital environment — and by extension, our minds and lives — tidy. It’s not just a productivity boost; in a world of constant interruptions and information overload, healthy organizational habits will help you stay balanced and carve out time for the things that bring you joy, all the while making progress towards what matters to you most.

How do you keep your Todoist organized? Share your tips with us @Todoist — we’d love to hear from you.

Learn how to manage your time more effectively, too, with 9 Ways to Create More Time According to Research.