Tag Archives: todolists

It’s Monday. You’re todo list isn’t working for you. Here’s what you should consider


It’s Monday. You are trying to plan your day, your week, and you are struggling. It may just be you, but chances are it is the act of writing out your todo list. To see what I mean, read this excellent piece by my online friend and great writer, Clive Thompson. Everyone struggles with todo lists and the tools used to work with them. I know I do. I have used many such tools over time and have never landed on the perfect one.

So here’s what I recommend:

  1. First, acknowledge todolist tools are blunt instruments at best. Don’t try too hard to do everything with one tool. Do the best you can.
  2. Second, acknowledge that it is easy to overwhelm todo list tools with data. When you do, you end up spending more time working with the tool then getting things done. Try to hold back.
  3. Third, understand the level of granularity to require. Start high level on your todo lists and then drill down only if you have to.
  4. Finally, separate planning and reporting from todo lists. Your plans should drive your todo lists. Focus on more on achieving your plans and your goals and less on your tasks. Then when you are done, report what is necessary.

Todo list tools are good to help you achieve your tasks. But focus less on your tasks and tools and more on what you are trying to achieve.

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash )

It’s Friday. You need a to-don’t list

Ok, that’s a cute name, but what do I mean by “to don’t” list? Chances are, you have a long list of todos. Worse, you don’t even have a list: you just have a foggy anxious stew in your head of many things you feel you need to do.

Here’s what to do. Write out everything. You can use paper, you can use post-it notes. You can use workflowy like I do. But get down those todos. If you already have a long list, then great. I mean…”great”. 🙂

Once you have your list, go through the four questions here: Multiply your time by asking 4 questions about the stuff on your to-do list

Take all those items you are going to eliminate and put them in one list. The items you are going to automate in another, the items you plan to delegate in a third, and the items you can put off in a fourth. Then remove them from your list. Tada!  You’ve decluttered your todo list and separated it into a To-do List and a To-don’t List.

If you find this difficult — and decluttering is difficult — ask a friend to come in and help you. They can be much more objective about things that you can. Don’t dither: if you can’t decide, put an item into the Put Off list.

As for automation, don’t just think of the one time you do something, think of the many times a year you have to do something. It adds up. A little bit of time automating might add up to hours of effort in the next year or two.

The point of a todo list is not to accumulate a list: it’s to get things done. Get the unnecessary things off of it so you can focus on the necessary ones.

(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash )

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It’s Monday. The first thing you should do is tackle your todo list

Because as this piece argues: Your To-Do List Is, in Fact, Too Long.

I know mine is. Yours likely is too. And if you are using your inbox as an organic todo list, I am sure it is too long.

That piece argues for one way of dealing with it. To me, I think there are several ways. Here are some:

  1. Write down 1-3 things on your list that you can definitely accomplish today. Meetings count. So does research and education. Lunch too.
  2. Write down 1 hard thing and 1 fun thing to do from your list. Do that hard thing, then reward yourself with the fun thing.
  3. Park your old todo list somewhere. Come up with a new list. On the bottom of it, write down: revisit my old list later in the day. You will discover two things: one, you did things on it even if you couldn’t bear to write them down now; two, the things you actually did were more important than the things on your list.
  4. First thing on your todo list: create two new lists. One list is all the things on your todolist you can avoid doing for a month; the other list are things you have to do this month. Second thing on your todo list: for the second todo list, write down the least amount of things you have to do to push all the items off until the next month. After you do this, your list will shrink considerably.
  5. Don’t write anything down first, just start working. Every time you get something done in a period of 15 minutes or more, write it down. That was your todo list all along: you just couldn’t write it until you started.

Image via Donald Giannatti

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How to be more productive with a better todo list?


Easy. Don’t make these mistakes: These Seven To-Do List Mistakes Could Be Derailing Your Productivity

What should you do?

1. Write your lists the day before
2. Don’t have too many items
3. Have items you can truly do that day
4. Prioritize items
5. Be specific
6. Create a fresh list each day
7. Link it to your calendar

If you need guidance, see the article.

It’s a skill writing a good todo list. Having better ones means you have a better or at least a more productive day.

Do you feel like you do alot with little to show for it? I did too. Here’s how I turned that around.

Last year, I was discouraged: I was doing a lot with little to show for it. I would frequently be up until midnight doing chores and trying to stay on top of things and I was exhausted. Despite all that effort, I could not tell you what I had accomplished and I wasn’t getting any feedback telling me either. I decided I had to change that, and to change that, I did two major things: I started using a spreadsheet and I started using Workflowy. Let me explain how these two tools made a difference for me.

First, I started using a spreadsheet to track everything I did. Before I would write my todolists on a piece of paper, do it, then throw the list away. With the spreadsheet,  I put all my todos in there. Initially it had two columns: a todo column and a status column. Each todo had an associated status: Pending (i.e., I hadn’t started the task), WIP (work in progress, meaning I had started the task but hadn’t completed it) or Complete. As I did each todo, I changed the status from Pending to WIP (Work in progress) to Complete. I would try to only tackle tasks that were in the spreadsheet. If I did something that wasn’t in there, I started adding it there. (That last thing of capturing all todos in the spreadsheet was important.)

Very soon, I could see from the spreadsheet that I was doing a lot. In fact, the todolist expanded greatly. So I added a new column: priority. Each todo has a priority: 1-4. Once or twice a week, I reviewed my todos to see if they had the right priority. Then I ignored anything that wasn’t a 1 until the next review period. Prioritization helped me to focus.

Despite that, I still had many many todos, and still too many todos with a number 1 priority. I added additional columns over the year and this helped me manage what I had to get done. Even when my todo list had over 500 items on it, I could quickly filter out all but the 3 or 4 items I needed to focus on for a day. I added a column to help me separate Work todos from Home (not work related) todos. Then I subcategorized the Todos: there are todos related to my kids, todos concerning Money, my Home, even Me!

Of all the colums in the todo list, I found this last column of subcategories to be the most important in terms of getting a sense of accomplishment. Here’s why. At the end of each month, I took the completed todos and sorted them by subcategory. I could see from this where I was (and wasn’t) spending my time. For example, I might see that I was spending a lot of my time dealing with House issues and not enough of my time with the Kids. Having this in front of me allowed me to better focus my time in the near future. (Note: you don’t have to wait until the end of the month to do this, and when I find I am really busy, I will do weekly or biweekly reviews to see how the month is shaping up).

At the end of the month, I create a new worksheet for the new month by making a copy of the existing todo list. That way, I can focus just on the todos for that month.

After a few months of this, it was easy to do. You might think it is a lot of effort, but with the spreadsheet I have, I found it easy to add to and sort the todos. Most days I spend less than a few minutes reviewing it.

Occasionally I do things that aren’t on the list. It doesn’t matter much: most todos end up in there. The main thing is I get to see that I am getting things done and I can see where my effort is going.

That’s the spreadsheet. At first, it was all I wanted. I could see what I was getting done each month, and that felt great. I was getting a sense of accomplishment every month. But it wasn’t enough. The problem with just using the spreadsheet was that it is very granular. I could see I was doing a lot of tasks, but was that good or bad? Also, sometimes a bunch of smaller tasks add up to a bigger task that should be highlighted, but the spreadsheet couldn’t do that for me. I needed a different approach. I needed a different tool.  After thinking about this, I started using Workflowy (workflowy.com).

At the start of the month, I create a list of major activities I want to accomplish that month. (Workflowy is really  great if you like lists: that’s why I picked it.) Then I make sure my todos for that month are in line with those major activities. At the end of the month, I roll up the tasks that I did and put them in workflowy according to the major activities. Additionally, I might look and see I accomplished a number of things in the month that I didn’t expect to at the start of the month. I will add them to Workflowy, too, creating a new major activity to describe them.

What I liked about this is that month after month I could now see I was accomplishing a lot. I wasn’t just doing just a lot of little things: I was getting bigger things done. I could also see what I wasn’t accomplishing (e.g. running) and then correct that (or at least accept it in light of the other things I was accomplishing).

The other thing I realized is that if you have a lot on your plate, then it is difficult to make a lot of achievements in one month, but over many months, you start to see you have accomplished a lot. You miss that as your review your day to day activities because you are juggling a lot. Even looking back over a month, you think: wow, I barely made a dent in things. But as you look back over 3 or 6 months, you can say: wow, I made big improvements in 3 or 6 or even a dozen areas.

There are lots of improvements that can be made on this system, depending on who you are.  You may have the advantage of being able to focus in one or two areas. If so, you could use a simpler approach. If you have many major responsibilities and you want to make improvements in your own life, this approach may work for you. It works for me.

A template of my spreadsheet is here. It’s an XLS file.

As for the list I have each month in workflowy, I start with a template like this:

In Month X I plan to achieve the following

  • Concerning family and friends
  • With regards to personal finances
  • On the home front
  • With regards to staying organized
  • For special project X (whatever X is at the time)
  • Personally, I plan to do more regarding….
    • Writing/reading
    • Fitness
    • Develop personal skills
      • Develop my technical skills
      • Develop other skills
    • Explore new things

If you have read to this point: thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to do this. If you try this approach and it gives you some benefit, please let me know. Good luck! Accomplish great things!

The best todo list ever? Certainly the simplest. Likely the one you need.

By now you’ve had a chance to go over the things you need to do this week. Quite possibly it is looking overwhelming. Even though you are working hard, you don’t feel like you are accomplishing things. If so, try stepping back, take a minute, and read this: If you do this and only this, today will be a good day.

It really is a good way to approach your day. (And yes, it’s fine if you do more than one thing.)