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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.