I am currently recharging my batteries. This article was first published on 3 March 2008.
Do you know how to use a task list to its fullest potential? Do you ever find yourself forgetting things, because they weren’t on your list? Or realizing that you forgot to check your list and missed doing something important? Or turned away from it because it was overwhelming? These are all signs of a flabby task list.
Just as getting in physical shape requires a little effort and perseverance, so does getting your task list in shape. Here are five ways to shape it up:
Write Everything Down In One Place
The whole point in having a task list is so that you have a record of the things you have to do. Writing things down in different places, or keeping some things in your head is just inviting things to be forgotten. It doesn’t matter what system you subscribe to: GTD, Do It Tomorrow, 7 Habits or a planner: get everything down and process it appropriately.
Check It Often
My system for work and my system for home are in two different places, because this lends itself best to my working environment. However, if I don’t check my home task list in the morning, at lunch, and before I leave work, I always find myself missing things, and coasting to the end of the day without doing a thing on it. I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten to run an important errand at lunch, or make a phone call that must be done during business hours, simply because I didn’t check.
A task list does no good if it isn’t looked at. You must check it often during the day to make sure you are on track.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Keep It Prominent
Since my home task list lives in Remember The Milk, I fill out my PocketMod at my desk first thing in the morning with that information, just so that I have my non-work task list in front of me all day. This reminds me of what needs to be done that day.
If it isn’t handy, you will be less likely to to look at it.
Limit What Goes On The List
If I have too much stuff on the list, I will either ignore it all because it is overwhelming, or the things I need to do will get lost in the crowd. I found that if my list contains more than I can accomplish in one day, I get discouraged and won’t do anything. So I keep things in another place until I have done what needs to be done, then I can work on the rest of the stuff.
I put everything into my project list in Bonsai, but the things I will do on a given day are given due dates. Everything else is left undated. When I have finished the dated items, I move to the undated list.
Distinguishing between what I have committed to do, and what I would like to do means the difference between actual accomplishment and wishful thinking.
As we say in the computer industry, “garbage in, garbage out”. The system will only be as good as the information you put into it. Items such as “Learn French” or “Clean the house” are not specific enough to be of use, so they become clutter. Paring down your entries to a do-able, specific size, and making them SMART can help you move directly into doing, without having to think. More specific goals would be “vacuum bedrooms” or “sign up for A234 Course in French at community college”.
Cleaning up and paring down your task list can go a long way in making it a productive tool. Once it is clean and lean, you and it will be well on your way to your peak productivity performance.
Photo by LollyKnit