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09 Feb

How to avoid a delayed to-do-list

Datum: 2016-02-09 12:10

There are count­less great apps, pro­grams and web ser­vices that assist us by man­ag­ing our one and only to-do-list.

In this sin­gle loca­tion we can gath­er every­thing, and I real­ly mean every­thing, we have to do (and which we want to write down and not have to remem­ber) with ease since it enables us to sort, cat­e­go­rize and fil­ter out only the tasks we wish to see at the moment.

But, in spite of this, I quite often encounter friends of struc­ture who change their tool or list-app rather fre­quent­ly. They try the lat­est one, get excit­ed about using it, and every­thing works great for a lit­tle while. But after a month or so they try the next newest thing, or even return to using paper and pen or Pos­tIt-notes instead. They blame it on the tool and say that it did not work for them since the list got too messy after a few weeks.

The entire list in a state of decay
Not always, but often, this grow­ing messi­ness depends on some­thing that is actu­al­ly eas­i­ly dealt with. I am refer­ring to how most peo­ple overuse the lit­tle, but oh so sig­nif­i­cant, due date”-box. When we are about to add a new task to some form of dig­i­tal to-do-list-tool and it asks us to assign a due date, it is tempt­ing to write one even though there might not actu­al­ly be a spe­cif­ic dead­line for the task or assign­ment. We think Hm, when will I have time to do this? Wednes­day next week might be a good idea”, and then set the due date for Wednes­day next week since we fig­ure that this way the task will emerge on the dai­ly to-do-list for that par­tic­u­lar day.

The prob­lem is just that from now until Wednes­day next week, it is high­ly prob­a­ble that tasks with high­er pri­or­i­ty will show up, which then makes it dif­fi­cult to do the task we orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to do on Wednes­day (even though not doing it is cor­rect­ly pri­or­i­tized). When we open the to-do-list on Thurs­day morn­ing, the task shines red or is high­light­ed in some oth­er way, indi­cat­ing that it is delayed and over­due, and over time these high­light­ed and delayed” tasks increase in num­ber (even though they actu­al­ly aren’t late or over­due at all). 

A twist­ed version
We will even­tu­al­ly have obtained a to-do-list which does not reflect real­i­ty at all, which appears to be gen­er­al­ly delayed and which just makes us uncom­fort­able. Our bad con­science starts to build (though for no good rea­son) as the list becomes more unbear­able to look at by the day, and we use it less and less since the late” tasks are obstruct­ing our view of the rel­e­vant tasks.
We end up con­clud­ing that the tool wasn’t what we were look­ing for since the list just got messy after a few weeks. 

But unjust­ly so.

You should there­fore only assign due-dates and dead­lines to tasks when they actu­al­ly have one.

Do this

  1. Go through your to-do-list and remove any due-dates or dead­lines which are not nec­es­sary. If a task does not have a set dead­line, but you still want to remem­ber doing it for exam­ple in Decem­ber, then do one of the fol­low­ing things:

    a) Either, include the time you want to do it in the for­mu­la­tion of the task; In Decem­ber, email …” et c. This way you can do a search through the to-do-list in the begin­ning of Decem­ber for any tasks which you pre­vi­ous­ly indi­cat­ed should be per­formed some time dur­ing this month. It will then be much eas­i­er to set a rel­e­vant dead­line if there should even be one.

    b) Or, use some kind of soft­er” due-date which is avail­able in some dig­i­tal tools. In Things for Mac (which is the tool of my choice) you can for instance sched­ule” a task so that it is dis­played on the dai­ly list from a cer­tain date but with­out being high­light­ed or marked as late if I do not choose to do it at the des­ig­nat­ed time.

  2. When you are man­ag­ing your due-dates any­way, trans­fer the due-date of any delayed tasks to a future date so that you no longer have to see the list high­light­ed or marked by red flags. You can­not do any­thing about yes­ter­day today any­way. Be hon­est to your­self and decide when the task should be due.

  3. When you write new tasks from now on, only set a due date or dead­line when you real­ly need to.

A more truth­ful list
If you use due dates more sen­si­bly and spar­ing­ly, you will have less tasks on your dai­ly to-do-list. You will not have less to do, but you will get to the bot­tom of what con­sti­tutes musts” on today’s list, and will then be free to choose tasks depend­ing on what they are, how long they take to com­plete or where you need to be to com­plete them.

It will also become much eas­i­er to get a com­pre­hen­sive overview of your list and it will all in all become eas­i­er to work with. Besides, you will not have to search for new to-do-list-tools as often as before.

What is your way?
How do you keep your to-do-list updat­ed and easy to work with in spite of hav­ing a lot to do? Leave a com­ment and share.