A to-do list should be a tool that helps, it shouldn't set us up to be discouraged and unhappy. Feeling bad about ourselves is when we're most likely to experience failures of impulse control and willpower. A bad to-do list is almost guaranteed to lead to that kind of failure.
Steps To Making A Useful To-Do List, One That Isn't Bad
1. Shorten the daily to-do list. A lot of time management folks agree that a daily to-do list shouldn't be lengthy. You have to be realistic about what you can accomplish. If you've had some bad experiences with not finishing a long daily to-do list, try to recall how many things you did manage to get done those days. Make your next to-do list only that long. Or be realistic about the types of things on your to-do list. If you have a big project on your list for tomorrow, try not to put many other things on it. If tomorrow looks like a day when you're only doing short, easy tasks, you can beef it up a bit.
If you make a short to-do list and finish everything on it early, you can always start another task. There are no laws governing these things. Writers, at least, don't have anyone monitoring what we do.
2. Make the to-do list for a week, not a day. If you've worked on a task from your weekly to-do list but haven't finished it, make a hash mark next to it. Visually, you can see that you've done something toward that task, even if you haven't been able to cross it out. This avoids the daily crash and burn scenario, because you feel you haven't done enough. And you're almost certain to make some kind of progress and finish a few things over the week.
3. Build your to-do list around goals. If you have created goals with objectives for a particular period--the year, the summer, Lent, the month--you have things to work toward that are particularly important to you. Make your to-do lists around some of those. Even if you do only a few things from your to-do list, they are important things. An example: Besides this blog post, I've done only one work-related task today. It was a submission that I started working on yesterday, and submitting is a goal for me this year. I'm not suffering too much about how this day went.
Check out more thoughts on to-do lists here at Original Content.