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.


4 thoughts on “Really Managing a To Do list”

  1. This is excellent time management advice.

    For anyone who doesn’t believe it: Please take a time management class. … unless you work for one of our competitors. In that case, please feel free to continue doing whatever you’ve been doing. >;->

  2. As I write this, my columns are:

    Category: Here I can note with a few letters whether an item has to do with personal business, family, work, a particular project at work. Etc.

    Task: the actual to-do text

    Waiting: a word or two about who or what this task is waiting on, if applicable. Very helpful if I pile up a bunch of things, I can sort by this and quickly find everything that I need to interact with a certain person about.

    Who: a column populated occasionally to denote the task really should be delegated to someone else. When my list piles up too high, I look through my items and try to populate this, and then grab some things and start delegating.

    Hours: sometimes populated with a low resolution estimate of how many hours of work the task is. Occasionally helpful (and only sometimes populated) to try to figure out if the stuff I have stacked up to hopefully do today is of reasonable total size.

    Those are just the columns I have right now. I change them whenever I need to. I populate some of them sometimes and not others. Your mileage may vary, do what you need to meet your needs.

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