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11 Sep

Don’t mix ideas and to-do-tasks on the same list

Datum: 2023-09-11 08:55
Close-up of chaff from wheat in sunlight.

With time our to-do-list might grow lengthy. Per­haps it was quite a few years since we decid­ed to gath­er all tasks in a sin­gle to-do-list, and with time it has swelled with all kinds of things that need doing. It keeps get­ting longer, and that is OK. It does not have to end — ever. There will always be more things we either need or want to do. 

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Of course we should strive to com­plete the tasks we need to do today, and do our best to do all the impor­tant tasks need­ing to be done soon, but to do, com­plete and fin­ish every­thing I ever though of that I might want to do (and hence put on my list) is at least not one of my goals.

Any­thing but done

The list does admit­ted­ly grow some­what fog­gy” with time. It now con­tains things we have decid­ed to do, but also things we think we might want to do at some point, or ideas of things we could or should be doing. When we browse the list there are some tasks that catch our atten­tion, which we begin to con­sid­er doing, but then con­clude that on sec­ond thought, I’ll do that some oth­er day”, and we con­tin­ue brows­ing. They dis­tract us, the tasks we once thought we should do, but which we now do not see the appeal or neces­si­ty in.

The list has become a to-per­haps, maybe-do”-list, which has a whole oth­er ring to it than a to-do-list”.

Def­i­nite­ly — not maybe

Only add things you real­ly want to do to the to-do-list, not things you think you might poten­tial­ly and per­haps want to do at some point. Instead, keep all the things you might want to do in a some­time, maybe”-list. Many dig­i­tal list-tools have some form of list titled Some­day / Maybe” or the likes.

You do not need to keep an eye on this list, because if the tasks on this list are not done in a long while, it does not real­ly mat­ter or cause prob­lems. You review it once a month and see if there is any­thing you pre­vi­ous­ly thought you might want to do, that you now actu­al­ly want to do. If so, move the task onto your actu­al to-do-list and there you go — it will now get done some­time soon.

Do this

If you want to make your to-do-list more clear and clean, try this:

  1. Skim through your to-do-list and look for tasks which you are not cer­tain you want to or should do. They might once have been a great idea, but you are not so sure this is still the case.

  2. Trans­fer the tasks you are not so sure about to your some­time, maybe”-list instead.

  3. Add a point to the check­list of your week­ly run-through that if it is the first week of the month, you will browse the some­time, maybe”-list and poten­tial­ly acti­vate tasks which are now relevant.

Don’t be so hard on your­self — just tight­en up the list

If you make sure that your to-do-list sole­ly con­tains con­crete and clear instruc­tions of tasks that are rel­e­vant and which you have con­scious­ly decid­ed to do, it will become much eas­i­er to work with. And, as a bonus, it will become short­er. Giv­en that it is the right time, that you have time, and that you are in the right loca­tion, you will be able to act on any item on the list with­out hes­i­tat­ing. And from now on, you will nev­er again be dis­tract­ed by irrel­e­vant tasks when brows­ing the list for the next right thing to do.

What is your way?

Where do you write down all the ideas of things you could do, but are not yet cer­tain you want or should do right now? Do you have a des­ig­nat­ed place for ideas? Tell me!

(I write above that you should have a sin­gle to-do list, but that’s a truth with mod­i­fi­ca­tion. There are sit­u­a­tions where it’s not the end of the world if you have mul­ti­ple lists anyway.)

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