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Choosing Between a ‘Can Do List’ and a ‘To Do List’: Enhancing Productivity and Achieving Goals

When it comes to productivity and effective task management, the classic "To Do List" has been a go-to tool for organizing daily tasks and responsibilities. However, as productivity strategies evolve, a more dynamic approach known as the "Can Do List" is gaining recognition.

This blog post delves into the fundamental distinctions between these two methods, explores the unique benefits of each, and guides you in determining which approach aligns best with your personal productivity goals.

Notebook with To Do List written on it, and stationery lying on top of a blue desk.

The Traditional To Do List

Definition: A To Do List is a straightforward inventory of tasks that need to be completed within a specific timeframe. It typically involves jotting down tasks without prioritization or detailed planning.


  • Task Management: Helps organize and keep track of tasks that need completion.

  • Visual Reminder: Serves as a visual aid to remind you of what needs to be done.


  • List Format: Usually presented as a checklist.

  • Task-Centric: Focuses on listing tasks to be accomplished.

  • No Prioritization: Tasks are listed without a clear order of importance or sequence.


  • Clarity: Provides a clear outline of tasks.

  • Motivation: Checking off completed tasks can provide a sense of accomplishment.

  • Quick Setup: Easy to create and straightforward to use.

The Innovative Can Do List

Definition: A "Can Do List" is a practical, alternative approach to the traditional "To Do List." Instead of listing everything you need to accomplish, a "Can Do List" focuses on tasks you are confident you can complete within a given timeframe.

This method encourages a more positive outlook on productivity and helps prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed.



  • Goal Orientation: Aligns tasks with broader goals and objectives.

  • Actionable Steps: Breaks down goals into actionable steps.

  • Flexibility: Allows for adjustments based on changing priorities or circumstances.


  • Goal-Oriented: Tasks are chosen based on their contribution to overarching goals.

  • Prioritization: Tasks are ranked by importance and feasibility.

  • Adaptive: Can be adjusted to accommodate new goals or changes.


  • Strategic Focus: Aligns tasks with long-term objectives.

  • Efficiency: Maximizes productivity by focusing on impactful tasks.

  • Motivation: Provides a sense of progress towards meaningful goals.

How to Create a Can Do List

  1. Define Your Goals: Identify specific, achievable objectives you want to accomplish.

  2. Assess Your Capacity: Evaluate your available time, energy levels, and resources before creating the list. Be honest about what you can realistically achieve.

  3. Set Specific Tasks: Break down goals into smaller, manageable steps (tasks). Set specific tasks for each goal to ensure clarity and focus.

  4. Limit the Number of Tasks: Keep the list short and manageable. Aim for a maximum of 3-5 tasks per day, depending on their complexity and your capacity.

  5. Prioritize Tasks: Identify high-priority tasks that need immediate attention and those that can be deferred. Focus on tasks that align with your goals and deadlines.

  6. Set Deadlines: Assign realistic deadlines to each task to maintain momentum and focus.

  7. Review and Adjust: At the end of the day, review your progress. Adjust the list for the next day based on what you were able to accomplish and any new priorities that have emerged.

Practical Example of a Can Do List

Study for Next Week's Math Test

  • Goal: Master the concepts and formulas needed for the upcoming math test on calculus.

  • Tasks:

  1. Review class notes on derivatives and integration techniques.

  2. Practice solving calculus problems from textbook chapters 4 to 6.

  3. Create summary notes for key theories and formulas in calculus.

  • Priority: Begin with reviewing class notes to solidify understanding of fundamental concepts.


Switching from a traditional "To Do List" to a "Can Do List" can transform your productivity approach, leading to more realistic goal setting, reduced stress, and a greater sense of achievement.

By focusing on what you can realistically accomplish, you can maintain a positive outlook on productivity and create a more balanced, efficient workflow.

A Can Do List can be particularly effective in combating procrastination and enhancing productivity for several reasons:

  • Goal Alignment: By focusing on achievable goals rather than a simple list of tasks, a Can Do List encourages clarity and purpose in your daily or project-related activities.

  • Motivation: Prioritizing tasks based on their contribution to long-term objectives provides a clear sense of direction and progress, boosting motivation.

  • Focus on Impact: Prioritization ensures that you tackle tasks that make a significant difference, thereby maximizing your productivity and efficiency.

  • Flexibility: The adaptive nature of a Can Do List allows for adjustments in priorities and tasks based on changing circumstances or new insights, fostering agility in your approach.

By adopting a Can Do List, you can streamline your workflow, stay focused on meaningful goals, and achieve greater success in both personal and professional endeavors. Whether managing daily tasks or complex projects, this method offers a structured yet flexible approach to task management that aligns actions with outcomes.




Choosing between a To Do List and a Can Do List depends on your productivity style, goals, and the nature of your tasks.

While a To Do List offers simplicity and quick task tracking, a Can Do List provides a strategic approach to goal-oriented task management.

By understanding the differences and benefits of each approach, you can select the method that best enhances your productivity, supports your goals, and helps you achieve success in both personal and professional endeavors.



  1. Mark, G., & Voida, S. (2012). A pace not dictated by electrons: an empirical study of work without email. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 555-564.

  2. Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(4), 667-683.

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