Divide your to-do list by context

Does your paper to-do list get too unwieldy? Do you get overwhelmed by "home" to-dos cluttering your list while you're busy with work? Here's Hillary's practical solution:

I don't think I can take credit for this hack but I'd like to send it along since it has saved me: I write my daily to-do list using three note pads (or post-it notes), with each pad getting its own category.

By splitting my list into contexts, I only have to look at the items I can do at that time. It makes my day feel so much more manageable.

My categories are Work, Home and Errands. I make the lists every day while I sip my coffee and boot my computer, and I try to be specific about each item—avoiding things like "Clean."

For example:


Project #1
Project #2


Set out chicken to thaw
Girl Scouts tonight
Price new tires
1 load of laundry


CVS: toothbrush, toothpaste
Get gas

Such a great idea. Separate lists give you plenty of room for doodling, but you can also create separate columns on a single sheet of paper (if you won't find that too distracting).

I use an iPhone-based to-do list app (Things) and I've created context-based tags for the very same purpose. When I'm working, I only show the "Work" to-dos in my list. It really helps me focus.

If you're a fan of pre-printed lists, check out this clever option from Buttoned Up (one of my favorite organizing companies): NothingElse.Pad. Prioritizing is built right in, and they have separate spots for home and work.

Amazon: NothingElse.Pad

How do you keep your to-do list working for you?

More: To-do list hacks


  1. Lisa says

    I do this with Wunderlist (FREE on my iphone, web and desktop). Keep a list for home, work, work from home, Target, IKEA, etc. So when I am at each place I can see what I need to get done.

  2. says

    Lisa: Thanks for pointing out a good FREE to-do app. Things is ridiculously overpriced at $9.99 — I bought it on the recommendation of a friend — but it *does* do the job, so for me it was $ well-spent.

    Anyone else have free to-do app recommendations, either for the iPhone or for Android?

  3. Janice says

    I’ve been using Todoist, which is free online and on Android, so probably iPhone. I like that it has the option for repeating items, so “clean fishtank” shows up every Sunday.

  4. Lori says

    Toodledo is my fave. Online and iPad synced. I guess iPhone too. Recurring items, due dates, folders, reminers. You can slice and dice your task lists how you want too. And FREE!! Love it!

  5. Melissa says

    I use ColorNotes, a free Android app. Its like sticky notes for your home screen and has options for freeform notes or checklists.

  6. Jen says

    I’ve been using workflowy.com for the past few weeks and love it because it’s easy to categorize items and hide ones that aren’t relevant right now. I’ve always gotten overwhelmed in the past by having too many things on my list and this has given me an easy way to plan far ahead without feeling like too much is piling up. I’m not sure if it works with Android/iPhone or not.

    Something I’ve done with paper lists was to fold the paper into quadrants and write a label at the top of each – say, errands, meal planning, projects, home improvement.

  7. songbird says

    I recommend rememberthemilk.com. It is free, has various app integrations, you can have multiple lists for different contexts, and you can e-mail them to add stuff to your list.

  8. Walnut says

    I use G-tasks, which stays up on my Gmail page and syncs to its coresponding iPhone app. Best thing is that you can share your to-do list. I particularly like it for sharing my grocery list while the s/o runs to the store.

  9. Melissa says

    RememberTheMilk.com – it’s free, has tons of easy to use features like due dates, e-mail or text msg reminders, prioritization, categorization, and customized views. You can access it from any computer with internet access and even works on my cell phone!

  10. says

    I have tried many different Android applications to manage tasks. My favorite for to-do list application to sync with Google Tasks is Tasks n Todos. If you want a total stand alone app, I agree with songbird and melissa, Remember the Milk is top notch.