Managing a To Do list

There are thousands of to do lists applications to choose from, across most every kind of programmable device we’re surrounded with. I have a to do list, but I don’t use any of the apps. A few years ago someone noticed how I did this and asked me to write a few words about it. Whoever it was… I have forgotten, sorry to take so long.

I manage my list using a spreadsheet. Yes, an old-fashioned, dawn of the PC era spreadsheet. The killer app from before that term existed. Why?

  1. A spreadsheet is an amazing general purpose tool.
  2. It has the columns of data I wanted to have right now. I want a new column? Click click and I have it. It doesn’t matter if someone who wrote the to do app thought I needed that column.
  3. Some old column of data no longer useful? Click click, it’s gone.
  4. Finding or sorting data? Yes, in arbitrary ways, right now.
  5. Fonts too large or too small? I don’t go shopping for a new application from someone with a better sense of design. Click, the font is whatever size I prefer.
  6. Sometimes color coding or bold seems like a good idea… and it can be done instantly. Or removed – without shopping for a different application or trying to persuade an author of an application is a good idea.
  7. Sometimes I want to access my list from my phone or tablet. Therefore, I use a cloud spreadsheet application – and have access to the list anytime, without yet another app.
  8. Print? Sure, everyone once in a while.

I think this is a good general pattern: pick out an app for a special purpose only when┬áthere are aspects of the behavior of such an application that are not easily met with the general application. But by default, it’s your data, keep it in one of the many applications that already deals with your data in a generalized, flexible, proven way.

At the technical level, my to do list is very well managed. But what about at the logical level, what about really managing my to do list? That’s for another post.

 

Really Managing a To Do list

Earlier, I wrote about managing a to do list, recommending a boring general purpose tool (a spreadsheet) for the purpose. But what about managing the contents of the list, not just the bits? Here are some ideas that have proven useful.

  1. If you are responsible for more items than you can easily remember, have a to do list. Ignore the advice out there to discard your list.
  2. If you’re young and don’t have a list yet, consider that having one might be a necessary step to taking on more responsibilities over time.
  3. Ideally, have one list. However, if your work involves sensitive information that can’t be mentioned (even tersely) on a personal device, have two lists. Keep your work and home lists, on your separate work and home devices.
  4. Record each new thing to do, on the one list (or the one of two lists). Don’t let other extra lists build up elsewhere. No post-it notes, no 294 inbox emails each of which is a todo, etc.
  5. Prioritize the top N items on the list each day. N might be more or less depending on the size of your items.
  6. Compare/reconcile the top of your todo list, with your calendar, briefly each day.
  7. Keep a close eye on urgent vs important while prioritizing. Research Eisenhower or re-read Covey if you forget.
  8. Each week, review: prioritize further down the list.
  9. During a review, notice items that aren’t likely to ever be of enough priority to do at all, and delete them.
  10. During a review, notice items that should be on someone else’s list instead, and delegate them there.
  11. During a review, notice items that are better not to do at all, and make a “not to do” list if necessary.
  12. Beware the arrival of new TODOs that endlessly push the old ones down the list. New items that aren’t of enough priority to do relative to what’s on the list, are better of discarded.
  13. Don’t prioritize and review too often – organization good, procrastination bad.