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02 May

Having several to-do-lists is not the end of the world

Datum: 2023-05-02 08:00
A business man's finger is pointing at different computer icons on a transparent screen.

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:

  1. First you select which sys­tem or which list you will work with for the next while.
  2. 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.

Do this

  1. 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.
  2. If you are slight­ly less suc­cess­ful than you would ide­al­ly wish, set­tle for the hand­ful of places you have nar­rowed the num­ber down to.
  3. 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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