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Unlocking the Power of Your To-Do List: A Step-by-Step Guide to Success


A person writing a to-do list for the day.

A major component of productivity is prioritizing your daily responsibilities, which is why to-do lists are so important. Usually, I suggest using the Eisenhower Matrix, which helps you visually sort tasks according to how urgent and important they are, but there is another way: The ABCDE method, which comes from Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. Obviously, eating the frog—or doing your biggest, worst task first—is one way to tackle the day’s duties, but structuring out how you’ll do the rest is pretty important, too. Here’s how it works.



What is the ABCDE method? Unlocking the Power of Your To-Do List


The ABCDE method is a simple way to categorize whatever you need to do. Using it can be a solid first step to making your to-do list, especially if you’re following a model like the 1-3-5 list, which requires you to do one major task, three medium-sized ones, and five small ones every day. Figuring out the big, medium, and small tasks is actually a task in itself (but it doesn’t count as one of the five, sorry). 

When you are planning out your day, you’re going to give each task in front of you a grade. First, list out everything you need to do. This can be a list of your tasks for the day, week, or month—you’ll weed it all down eventually. Then, give them each a grade based on this outline:


  • A is for the most important tasks, like anything that will have a consequence if it doesn’t get done. These are those “frog” tasks that will require resources and time, but they can also be something that doesn’t take a lot of time but does have a hefty associated punishment for failure, like paying a bill on time. 

  • B tasks are ones that also need to get done, but won’t have such serious ramifications if they’re not done immediately. You know you need to do them at some point (lest they escalate to the urgency of an A task) but you have a little wiggle room.

  • C tasks don’t have any consequences for not getting done, but are things it would be good to get taken care of. For me, a C task might be responding to a PR pitch to say I’m not interested in interviewing their client. I didn’t need to do it, but it’s a nice thing to do that keeps a professional relationship friendly. (Conversely, a B task would be responding to someone’s publicity agent right away when they’re trying to nail down a time for an interview. An A task would be doing the interview.)

  • D tasks are anything that you can delegate to someone else. The person you give it to shouldn’t have any A or B tasks it will take away from; it should become a priority for them, even if it’s not major for you or simply something you trust they’ll get done right. 

  • E tasks are ones you eliminate altogether. If they serve absolutely no purpose, have no consequences attached to them, or may even pull you off course or be a detriment, just don’t do them. This is a pretty relative grade, though: Say you wanted to go to the grocery store tonight but just don’t have time. You have enough food at home or could order takeout. It’s fine to eliminate it this time, but when you deplete all your food, the grocery store trip will roar back onto the list in a higher position. Other E tasks may never reappear; they’re just inconsequential. Ignore them to reduce pressure on yourself. 



Once every task has been assigned a grade, start planning out your day (and week and month). Here’s where that 1-3-5 to-do list comes in: The one big task should be an A task, something that is urgent and timely, and/or requires major resources and focus. The three medium-sized tasks might include a smaller A-level one, but will most likely be Bs. For the five smaller tasks, pick up any leftover B grades and, if you want, Cs. As for the D-level things, outsourcing and coordinating on them might still require enough work to qualify carrying out the delegation as one of your five smaller tasks, but it depends how much effort that really takes and what the rest of your day is looking like. Don’t shoot the messenger, but you might have to fall back on a C task to get the delegation taken care of. 

The E grades can just be crossed off. Go ahead and delete them or strike them out. It’ll feel good (and productive) to get that finality on them. 


Once you’ve organized which tasks are necessary for the day, look ahead at the week and make sure you keep any B-level responsibilities in mind and roll them over to a day that works for you if you don’t have time that particular day. Putting them off will turn them into As pretty quickly. 

As always, rely on timeboxing to schedule out the day from there. Allocate time for each task in your calendar, giving yourself the most time for major A-level duties and less and less time for B and C. Don’t multitask; instead, do each thing in order, starting by eating the frog and moving through the other things one at a time until they’re done. (The exception here is that if you’re delegating tasks, try to get it done early so the other person has time to complete what should be an A- or B-level job for them, too.)


Grading your responsibilities is an easy way to get perspective on them and enhance your sense of urgency around them, which compels you to be more productive. Getting it all into an ordered list gives you structure and direction, wastes less time through the day, and will give you a sense of accomplishment when you’re done, which itself is a productivity win.






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