Project Management guide
← Back to FAQ

Why Should I Use To-Do Lists in Project Management Software?

A to-do list is simply a list of all of the tasks you need to complete during a particular period of time. For instance, at the beginning of the day, you might jot down on a Post-it Note all of the tasks you want to complete before the end of the day. That becomes your to-do list for the day. 

With to-do list functionality built into your project management software, you can more easily create, manage, edit, and share your lists. Plus you don’t have to worry about losing Post-it Notes or pieces of paper. And if your chosen software has a mobile application, you can keep the list with you wherever you go.

Why to-do lists in project management software help

Many people find to-do lists helpful for prioritizing and completing tasks. According to psychologist Dr. David Cohen, there are 3 reasons for this:

  • By laying everything that you have to do out in order, it’s easier to focus on 1 activity at a time. This reduces “noise” and can lower anxiety about having too much to do. 
  • A to-do list provides an easy-to-follow structure for your day. You don’t have to worry about interdependencies. You simply go down the list in order. This helps people avoid multitasking and being sidetracked. 
  • To-do lists allow you to see what you’ve accomplished. Every time you complete a task, you get to check it off, which can help you feel more productive and successful. It can even boost your mood. 

The problem with to-do lists

The biggest drawback of to-do lists is their inability to account for all of the dependencies inherent to projects. These lists don’t allow you to see how tasks connect. 

Without functionality such as the ability to create predecessors and successors, you can’t view and manage the critical path. That means that when one task slips, it can be very difficult to understand the impact on the other tasks and the overall project.

It can also be more difficult to coordinate resources and tasks that are interdependent and to make sure resource loading occurs properly. 

Many free project management software solutions only offer to-do list task management. That means they don’t support other key project functions such as risk and change management, project analysis and reporting, and decision making. 

The bottom line is that to-do lists are great for task management but not project management. In other words, as the project manager, you need more advanced tools such as Gantt charts to manage the project as a whole. But each team member may find the use of to-do lists beneficial for managing their short-term workload. 

The solution

For this reason, your ideal project management software should be capable of supporting multiple views so that you can see the project as a whole or quickly see a list of tasks to be completed. This not only allows the software to support different team members’ needs but also enables to-do lists to automatically update and adjust as dependencies change. 

For example, imagine your designer Billy has a list of 10 tasks to complete for this week. But suddenly you’ve got a rush order for a new project, and you’ve been told the publishing date on another one has been delayed 2 weeks. 

In your view of the overall, interrelated schedule, you can easily move around work and schedule dates to accommodate these new changes. But if Billy is still working off a paper or static task list, he might not be aware of the changes and will keep working on the wrong activities. 

By having both project views integrated within your software, as you change timelines, Billy’s task list will automatically update. So your team will always be working on the correct tasks at the correct time. 

To make to-do lists even more useful, you can set your software up to automatically email a to-do list to members of your team. For instance, every morning, each team member can receive an email from your project software that outlines:

  • Tasks planned for that day
  • Any overdue tasks in your project management software 

This way, they never have to worry about creating or maintaining their own lists. The software will automatically do it for them.  

Prioritizing to-dos

Your project software should automatically prioritize tasks for you based on deadlines and due dates. But what if you have multiple tasks that all need to happen during the same period? If there are no clear requirements for which one needs to be done first, it can be challenging to properly prioritize them. 

Here are 5 tips from entrepreneur Lauren Perkins, NY Times bestselling author Greg McKeown, and productivity coach Errette Dunn on how you can determine what order tasks should be completed in: 

  1. Redefine your deadlines. It’s not possible for you to work on multiple tasks simultaneously so whenever you have the same due date for multiple tasks, the experts suggest creating new, earlier deadlines for some of them. For instance, if you have 5 deliverables due on Friday and each takes one day, you can change your deadlines. Make one due at the end of each weekday. 
  2. Get some space. Sometimes when you get too close to the details, you lose sight of the big picture, which can make it hard to understand where your priorities should lie. To avoid this, take a regular step back from your task work and consider the project as a whole. 
  3. Pretend you have half the time you actually do. When planning out your workday, it’s important to recognize that you won’t actually be doing project work every minute of your day due to lunch, meetings, etc. A good way to prioritize your work is to assume you only have half a workday. This forces you to not only prioritize what’s really important but also reduce distractions and interruptions. 
  4. Keep priority singular. When the word “priority” first appeared in the English language, it was singular, as in the one most-important thing. Take back the word’s original meaning and choose only one priority each day. If you don’t have one single priority at the top, you may feel pressure to multitask or jump back and forth between priorities. 

Learn to let go. Sometimes tasks end up on our to-do list that don’t really need to be there. It’s important to assess the activities on your list to determine if they need to be done and if they need to be done by you. In some cases, there may be tasks that you can remove from the project. In other cases, the work needs to be done but not by you.

Further reading
blog post

4 Signs Your Project Intake Process Is Outdated

blog post

Embracing Chaos: Future-Proofing Your Processes for Resiliency & Growth

blog post

What Game of Thrones House Is Your Project Management Style?