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17 Jan

What you risk when having checklists in to-do-tasks

Datum: 2022-01-17 15:07
A hand is marking a red check on a checklist with a blue background.

Microsoft To-Do has it. So does Trel­lo. And Things. And Todoist as well. Well, the fea­ture of div­ing a to-do-task into small­er sub-tasks” or a check­list with­in the task is an option avail­able in almost all dig­i­tal to-do-list tools.

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

A trap to beware of

It is great that the option exists, but judg­ing by what I see hap­pen to some of my clients, it is eas­i­ly used in a way that makes things unnec­es­sar­i­ly dif­fi­cult. After hav­ing worked with only one, com­plete to-do-list for a while, they real­ize that they have writ­ten down some tasks that are so exten­sive that they eas­i­ly get post­poned on account of them being too big. They find the check­list func­tion and sim­ply divide the task that is too big into small­er tasks, which they then gath­er in a check­list in the task or as sub-tasks right under“ the large task. This will look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent depend­ing on what tool you use.

And, solv­ing the predica­ment this way can be either a total suc­cess or a com­plete disaster.

Label­ing is the way to go

A pre­req­ui­site for being able to keep all to-do-tasks in a sin­gle place with­out it becom­ing a mess is that we by using cat­e­gories, tags or labels can choose to view only the sub­set of tasks we are inter­est­ed in from one moment to the next. We rarely look at the whole list at once. This is where it gets a bit messy if a cat­e­go­ry, tag or label only can be set for the orig­i­nal task (the one that is too big) in the tool we use. If this is the case, we will not be able to quick­ly and eas­i­ly view a sin­gle sub-task that would have been includ­ed in, for exam­ple, a view of all the phone calls that have to be made today. Instead, we will only see the big task (well, even that in a best-case scenario).

The method will, on the oth­er hand, be a suc­cess if we can put cat­e­gories, tags or labels on the sub-tasks as well, just like we can in Todoist. The sub-tasks will then be equiv­a­lent to all your oth­er tasks — only now in bitesize-format.

Like a lit­tle cheat-sheet

Of course, the check­list fea­ture has great val­ue even with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of assign­ing cat­e­gories, tags or labels. It is, for exam­ple, ide­al to list every step or oper­a­tion that is need­ed to per­form a task if we com­plete all the steps in one go, with­out hav­ing to quit in the mid­dle of the task and resume work­ing on it hours or days lat­er. In these cas­es, it is not that nec­es­sary to use a pow­er­ful cat­e­go­riza­tion- and filter-function.

Do this

If you want to avoid falling into this trap, do this:

  1. Look through your to-do-list and see if there are tasks which are so big you should divide them into small­er ones.
  2. Look into if you have a check­list fea­ture or a sub-task func­tion in your dig­i­tal to-do-list tool and if it allows cat­e­go­riz­ing the items on the checklist.
    • If there is such func­tion and it is pos­si­ble, make sub-tasks by divid­ing the big task into small­er tasks that each one takes less than a day to com­plete and assign appro­pri­ate cat­e­gories — just as you would for an ordi­nary task.
    • If the tool does not allow cat­e­go­riza­tion of the check­list items, make new, par­al­lel, small­er tasks on the same lev­el in the hier­ar­chy as the task you are split­ting up. Label the tasks appro­pri­ate­ly so that they will be easy to find lat­er on.

Avoid the mess

If you use the check­list fea­ture in your to-do-list tool for what it can han­dle and does well, you will get a to-do-list that is easy to work with and gives you a good overview of what you have not com­plet­ed already. You will avoid hav­ing a messy list with big tasks every­where on sev­er­al lev­els, and you will have to spend less time scrolling through what you have struc­tured. All in all, you get more time to actu­al­ly work on tasks rather than sift­ing, sort­ing and search­ing through your list.

What’s your method?

How do you work with the check­list func­tion in your to-do-list tool? If you have some inge­nious way, please tell me.

(Using check­lists is one of at least four ways to work faster, if you ask me.)

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