How to write an effective Daily Action List

An Action List is not the same as a To-Do List

A to-do list is a place where you store or write things down so that you don’t forget them. They’re things that need doing, but you haven’t given them a time frame. It’s an important tool, but you actually need both a To-Do List and an Action List to be truly effective.

  • Firstly, our to-do list is not prioritized — so our human nature usually chooses the easier tasks — and these are often the less impactful.
  • Items on a to-do list are also not broken down into actionable steps. This means that our list might include big projects that cannot be done in a day.
  • And finally, the to-do list is the repository for all the tasks. Most of the time, we’ll cross off a couple of items but also add a few more things to the list during the day — and wonder why we feel like we’re not making any progress.

3 Keys to Writing an Effective Action List

Instead of using a to-do list, try the Action List approach for a few days. Here’s how to write your action list…

1) Choose High Priority Actions

Take a moment to really think about what should be on your action list. Rather than just looking at all the incomplete things on your to-do list, review and reflect on your goals. What project or objective is most important for you right now? Then think about what action you could do today to move that project or objective forward.

2) Only a Handful of Actions

The more things on your action list, the less likely you are to get them done. For this reason, it’s best to embrace the idea of aiming low! Ideally, I like to have three things on my daily action list, but definitely no more than five. (You can always do more things that aren’t on your list once you’ve finished.)

3) Make each Action Small

In the theme of aiming low, each action should also be broken down so that it’s not too big. In fact, you should plan that each action could be done in less than an hour. This forces you to break big projects down into something that’s far more manageable and actionable. Which of course means it’s far more likely to get done!

Get into the Habit of *Actually Doing* Your Action List

By setting the bar so low, you’re now in a great position to actually get your action list done! However, it still takes some discipline to force yourself to focus on those tasks until they’re done.

A Daily Action List leads to Compound Results

When you truly do several small but important actions every day, the cumulative effects are phenomenal. Day after day, you chip away at those big goals — and that is actually the unspoken secret to achieving big goals! Ivy Lee recommended this approach to Charles Schwab and was paid a $25,000 for the advice (equivalent to more than $400,000 today).



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Fiona Adler

Fiona Adler


Hands-on director at and Writing about real entrepreneurship with practical tips and insights @