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2. Create an actionable plan

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With real-life examples, practical tools, and guaranteed progress for committed individuals, this session is your first step towards a more organized life.

How to create a master to-do list: build your backup brain (part III)

Are you overwhelmed by countless to-dos? 

Do you find yourself saying, "Where do I even start?"

Picture this: It's a typical Monday morning. You wake up and begin bracing yourself for the week ahead. Your mind is racing with a jumble of tasks - that important work project, the grocery shopping you've been putting off, and emails piling up like digital mountains. 

Sound familiar?

Welcome back to 'Building Your Backup Brain.' This series will improve your memory, ensure you are never late again, and handle to-dos with less stress.


If you've just joined us, catch up with the first two parts where we explored the wonders of The Reminders App and The Digital Calendar

As a quick recap, creating your backup brain consists of these three simple tools:


  • Reminders App

  • Digital Calendar

  • Master To-Do List

Today, we're diving into something that turned my chaotic Mondays (and the rest of the week, for that matter) into order: the Master To-Do List. It's more than a list; it's your roadmap to reclaiming control, finding peace amidst chaos, and yes, even enjoying your morning a bit more. 

In this article, I will teach you how to create a master to-do list that will leave you feeling organized, in control of your day, and less overwhelmed. 

Let’s get started.


How are some people able to get so much done? 

A few months ago, my ever-growing mental list of to-dos created so much stress. No matter what I did, it felt like I ended the day with more to do than when I started. 

The overwhelming feeling, the dread, the anxiety tied to having so much to do was too much. 

The month of September was chalkful of these days. It felt like I could not catch my breath and my self-esteem began to take a hit, which is no surprise. According to Dr. Hannah Rose

If we leave tasks unfinished for too long, the resultant rumination or anxiety can impact our self-esteem.

So, I did some research and found many different ways some people are able to get so much done. I tested multiple different systems and landed on one that truly works, The Master To-Do List. 

Here’s what I discovered: a master to-do list makes it easy for me to plan my day and week.

Here’s what is even better: it provided an immediate feeling of relief. 

What is a master to-do list? 

The master to-do list is a hub of everything you need to do. So, what should you write on your list? 

  • Projects at work 

  • Going to the grocery store

  • Doing laundry 

  • Things to buy

  • Upcoming events 

The master to-do list is designed so you do not forget to-dos while freeing up mental space. It also is a way to reduce stress. Laura Kent writes

woman with long brown hair sitting at a desk and writing in a notebook looking calm
To-do lists can be great tools for decreasing anxiety, providing structure, and giving us a record of everything we’ve accomplished in a day.

Keep in mind, that your master to-do list is separate from your digital calendar but they work in unison.

How do I create a master to-do list? 

Creating a master to-do list should not be a complicated process. The key is the keep your master to-do list in one place. Spreading it over different pieces of paper or notes on your phone will only lead to more stress or forgetfulness. Here are the steps:

1. Choose your hub

This can be a Google Doc, a piece of paper, or a template from Notion. If you have another place that works for you, go for it! Just make sure you only use one space for the list.

2. Divide

Split your list into two sections: personal and work.

3. Braindump

Write down every single thing you need to do. Don’t be shy. Write down everything. If there are deadlines or dates tied to any, note them at this time.

Feeling stuck? Ask yourself two simple questions: What do I need to do? What do I want to do?

list on a white, lined paper

4. Shorten

Is there anything you can delegate? Any unrealistic tasks? If so, cross them off. 

5. Organize

Review your list and group similar tasks or projects together. This is an opportunity to use colors or emojis to make your to-do list visually appealing! 

6. Break it down

Are there any projects that will take longer than one sitting? If so, break them down into smaller chunks. 

Your master to-do list is now complete! Here is an example of mine.

How do I use a master to-do list? 

While everyone misses some days, aim to look at your master to-do list and familiarize yourself with upcoming to-dos every weeknight. Build this into a habit so that this becomes a nightly ritual.

When looking at your master to-do list, have your digital calendar (part II of your Backup Brain) close by. This digital companion not only ensures that you keep track of your commitments but also helps in organizing and prioritizing your tasks efficiently. Here's how you can seamlessly integrate the two:

  1. Scan your list for any deadlines that are fast approaching. These are your immediate priorities. Without delay, add these deadlines to your digital calendar, setting reminders if necessary to stay on track.

  2. Sift through for tasks that are quick and straightforward. Determine a realistic day to tackle each of these tasks, then schedule them into your calendar.

  3. At the end of each day, review your list and your digital calendar. Cross off the tasks you have completed.

white male with long, dark hair, standing in front of a green background, wearing a black jacket

During the day, when you think of a to-do, assuming it is not something that requires immediate action, add it to the master to-do list.


Not sure if you should complete a task now or add it to the list? Use the 2-minute rule: if a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it immediately. It does not need to go on your master to-do list. 

If you are in the middle of something or cannot get to your list quickly when a to-do comes to mind, use The Reminders App (part 1 of your Backup Brain) so that it is remembered.

Following these steps not only gives you a sense of accomplishment but also helps in maintaining an updated and accurate overview of your pending tasks.


As we close the chapter on the Master To-Do List, remember that the journey to enhanced productivity and streamlined executive functioning is a continuous one. By embracing the tools and strategies we've discussed, you're well on your way to transforming overwhelming to-dos into manageable action items. 

Ready to transform your daily hustle into a harmonious routine? Don't let the journey end here! Subscribe to our newsletter and become a part of a community that's mastering the art of productivity, one task at a time.

Each newsletter includes one actionable tip designed to elevate your executive functioning skills. Say goodbye to overwhelm and hello to a more organized, efficient, and fulfilling life.

Click here to subscribe now and start building your backup brain with us every week. Your future self will thank you!

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About the author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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About 👋

Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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