One important part of the foundation of working structured and efficiently is to have all your to-do-tasks gathered in a single list rather than spread out on notes, in apps, emails marked with red flags, emails marked as unread, at the top of piles, and in countless other places where we tend to put things to ”keep an eye on them”.
My constant and persistent recommendation is that you have one, and only one, to-do-list — regardless if it is a physical list or a digital one.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
Is it even doable?
Most manage to gather all their tasks in a single location, but not everyone find this as easy as it might sound, and I don’t blame them. If you have a case management system, a support system, a bug tracking system, and perhaps even more, which all contain tasks in various formats that you need to keep track of and do, and these systems do not easily sync up with your ordinary to-do-list, it is nearly impossible to collect all the doings to be done in a single list. And attempting to compile them is hardly worth the time and the trouble either.
If we have a document management system, in which you are assigned steps to take, or a project management tool where the activities are divided and broken down all the way to the next, concrete steps to take, I would personally feel at a loss concerning how on earth to collect all these tasks coming at me from all directions into only a single, comprehensive list.
Luckily, we might not need to.
It comes down to the moment you set your priorities
The value of having only one to-do-list only really becomes apparent when we need to determine what the next best and right things to do are. When we are not using the list to make this decision anyway, it does not really matter if we have one or several lists.
However, the more we spread our tasks throughout several locations and ”lists”, the easier it is to forget, miss or lose tasks. But, if we can at least assemble our tasks in two or three places, or ”lists”, if gathering it all into a single list is out of the question, we will still manage well enough.
What matters is that we only choose what to do next from one place when we are prioritizing, because we still need to consider a number of parameters (the degree of importance, urgency, the time required et c), so just having to choose from one source of information, one list, is both enough and preferable.
Two steps instead of one
If you have, let’s say, three different systems to keep track of or places into which your to-do-list is more or less divided, you simply prioritize in two steps:
- First you select which system or which list you will work with for the next while.
- Then select the task with the highest priority from this particular place or list, without looking at or considering any other systems or lists you have tasks in as well. For example: You want to process as many support errands as you can in an hour. If you disregard all the other potentially important things you have to do, which errand has the highest priority?
It is only if you try to compare the priority of tasks in all three places simultaneously that you will feel confused, scattered and suffer a lack of overview.
- Make an (final?) attempt to gather all your tasks into a single list, since this is what we ought to be striving for after all.
- If you are slightly less successful than you would ideally wish, settle for the handful of places you have narrowed the number down to.
- To enable yourself to prioritize wholeheartedly from a list or location of your choice, think of a way to determine which place to select a task from right now. If you for instance intend to work x number of hours in a certain system or list every day, schedule recurring hours in the calendar so that you reserve the time you need to complete these particular tasks.
Or, if you do not want to block specific times in your calendar, add a to-do-task to your main- and actual to-do-list phrased ”Work two hours in the support system”, and set it to recur daily. This way you get to cross off the work you do from the daily list of tasks, but do not forget that it needs to be done on a regular basis.
Focused, not distracted
If you make it easier for yourself to prioritize what to do next by only choosing tasks from one list at a time, then having structure-infrastructure difficulties with the potential confusion of having the several places, locations and lists into which your tasks are spread out, might not by the end of your good structure after all.
Rather than getting distracted and feeling scattered when attempting to determine what you will do next, you will work out a systematic method to set course and remain focused.
Do you have other suggestions?
How have your tackled the fact that you might have to put up with having several lists to juggle? Tell me!
(Have you seen how I have organised my to-do list?
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