When do you write things on your to-do list? This is a question I get once in a while. For the people who are used to making lists of things to do in the week to come and daily to-do lists, the list is a dynamic tool to which we continuously add items. Some people are more used to making lists for the purpose of making long-term plans — plans that undoubtedly fail or have to be rescheduled since things ”show up” all the time; things such as emails, unpredicted phone calls, rescheduling of events and so on.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
My answer is therefore ”anytime” or ”all the time”. Whenever I come to think of something or receive a new to-do task from someone else that I will not do straight away, I write it on my list — regardless of where I am or what time it is. I keep adding to the list throughout the day as I think of or receive things to do, rather than sit down with it at one point during the day.
Reschedule rather than schedule rigidly
Some tasks have a due date, others don’t. The scheduling of tasks to do occurs automatically since the list shows me what I have to do listed by due date (when I want it to). Rather than plan what I will do during the day ahead, I frequently change direction since ”things show up” that I need to take into consideration. Once a week I look both back and forward in the calendar as well as consult the to-do, in order to remind myself of any tasks that might have fallen behind from the days that passed and to prepare myself for what is to come in the next few weeks ahead. This way I give myself a better perspective on my current situation and make sure I do not miss anything, as well as get good foresight on what is to come.
Only write what doesn’t get done once
The point of working in this way is that we do not have to spend unnecessary time on planning — plans that doubtlessly have to be remade anyway. We do not have to re-write the task several times, but can just re-shuffle the order of the tasks we will do when something unforeseen happens that we need to attend to first. If we were to make additions to the list only once in a while, we would actually have two parallel lists — one ”actual” list and one consisting of all the things we will soon add to the actual to-do list.
If you are used to doing things differently but are open to trying something new, this method actually only relies on one thing: You need to keep your to-do list readily available as much as possible.
Where do you keep your to-do list (be it digital or physical) now and when you are working? Is it close enough so that you can just add a task to it the minute you come to think of it, even if you are in the middle of something else? Perhaps you need to think of a way to bring the list a little closer to you so that it becomes as easy as possible to make notes the instant you think of something you need to do (which you will not do immediately).
If you cannot bring it with you all the time, could you think of a way to write things you come to think of down ”for now” so that you do not forget the task again? Can you do so by emailing yourself or having a designated place where you put the ”just for now”-notes that you go through every day to transfer the tasks it holds to your to-do list?
Get more done, forget less
If you write down your to-do tasks as soon as they occur to you rather than writing lists for tomorrow or next week, you will have more time for actually completing the tasks, since you do not have to spend time on making plans that never hold anyway. Since you make note of things you want to do (that are not done immediately), the risk of forgetting important things you for instance promised others decreases, compared to if you at frequent intervals have to recall what you said to people you met throughout the day you would do for them.
What’s your way?
When do you write or add to your to-do list? If you feel like sharing, write to me.
(But, where should you keep the actual list? Are there any tools? Yes, I have some favorites you can choose from.)
There's more where this came from
If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.