How To Effectively Manage Your To-Do List

Post written by Marlon Ribunal.
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The Next-Action Lists, along with the calendar, are at the heart of daily action-management organization.

-David Allen in Getting Things Done

David Allen’s Getting Things Done System points out that the “daily to-do lists don’t work” because of two reasons. One is the constant input of new tasks and shifting of their priorities. This makes your game plan difficult to follow.  Another reason is that you water down the emphasis on the unfinished tasks that need to be re-listed for the next day because those have to compete with the new priorities. If you’ve been wondering why your keeping a daily to-do list doesn’t seem to be of any help, you now know why.

The traditional to-do list can become an excess baggage in your productivity system. You have to capture your to-do tasks in such a way that your daily goals are aligned with your priorities. The traditional to-do list that itemizes tasks according to priority, with the one on top having the highest priority, only shows you the order of your priorities but does not necessarily emphasize the weight of each priority.

SimpleGTD: Uber simple, GTD-style todo list organizerThere are two things that you can do to make your to-do list an effective tool of productivity: Contextualize and bundle the tasks into Projects. The context, according to the GTD system simply gives you the idea of “what could you possibly do, where you are, with the tools you have“; and a project is “any desired result that requires more than one action step.” If you think about it, the tasks you do are really parts of particular projects. Managing your tasks under these two elements become easy with the use of the online tool called Simple GTD.

Create The List Of Your Projects

List Your ProjectsIn reality you only have projects and not “tasks” which are the bits that make up a particular project. Making your project list in SimpleGTD is easy. Remember that a “project” is simply any desired outcome that involves more than one task. You could consider a simple Monthly Report as a project because it involves multiple tasks such as asking your boss about the specification or parameters of the report, extraction of relevant data from the database, development of the actual report, and so on. Your projects can also serve as “tags” in your actions list.

Define The Context

Create Your ContextKnowing what tasks you have to do and how to do them makes those tasks half done. If you have defined your projects and carefully identified the needed tasks to accomplish them, the next thing that you do is to put those tasks in their proper contexts. The contexts tell you what resources you need and how to tackle the tasks to put your projects into completion. The contexts also help you to easily establish your priorities according to what needs to be done at the moment and what makes sense given your current situation.

List Tasks That Are Actionable

Your Task Must Describe An Actual ActionThe point of failure of any To-Do List is that the tasks are listed as “items” that don’t define actual actions. Your To-Do list must contain your Next Actions. By Next Action, we mean, according to Allen’s GTD book, “the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.” Your to-do item must, therefore, describe a particular action to do. So if we go back to our Monthly Report example, for the first task item to do you don’t write “Report Parameter” but “Ask boss about Report Parameter” which hints that you might also need to set a good time to sit with the boss and discuss about the parameters. That is the good thing about listing your tasks as actual actions; it exposes other related tasks that you might have missed in your assessment.

[ From Amazon: “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” ]

Review Tasks And Prepare Ahead

SimpleGTD Done Actions as Weekly Review ToolAccording to Allen, “In order to trust the rapid and intuitive judgment calls that you make about actions from moment to moment, you must consistently retrench at some more elevated level.” He describe this as a “behavior” critical to success – Weekly Review. There are four main reasons why you need a Weekly Review according to Allen: Gather and process all your “stuff” or tasks, review your system, update your lists, and get clean, clear, current, and complete. SimpleGTD provides this function with its “Done Actions” list which makes it easy to review what you have accomplished so far at any given moment. If you review this and purge this list on a weekly basis, then you can have a powerful Weekly Review tool at the same time.

[ From Amazon: “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” ]

SimpleGTD In Action

If you have tried SimpleGTD or currently using it to manage your to-do list, please share your thoughts on the tool. How is it benefiting you so far. If you haven’t used it yet, do you think it can effectively manage your to-do list? Why or why not?

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17 Thoughts.

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  12. Hi Marlon, well this couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I actually turned on the computer to write the most enormous to do list ever! Yes, yes, I see the problems you outline here where new to dos are added daily and the list never ends. Sadly very familiar. But I’m doing something right as my list is project oriented. Hooray. This is a top article. Very impressed with your knowledge and writing:)

    • Annabel,

      Thank you very much for the comment. What can I say but Wow! Your blog “Get in the Hot Spot” is one of the hottest blogs out there. I really am flattered by your comment. This is big for me because you are one of the bloggers – who are experts on their field – that I look up to! When people ask me what blogs I read on regular basis, your blog is one of the top blogs I recommend on a beat. More power to you and I appreciate this very much!

  13. This reminds me on the Anthony Robbins program “Time of your life” or the Brian Tracy’s “Eat the frog”… Basically the idea is the same.

    Also before managing your TODO lists you might want to answer to the following questions first:
    – What is it that you want? OUTCOME
    – Why you want it? PURPOSE
    – How to get it? ACTION

    After answering to these questions you won’t have a bunch of TODO list, but a meaningful drives (emotions) that will motivate you go achieve the thing you want.

    Furthermore, it is important that in order to get where you want it is important to learn how to manage your FOCUS. Instead of doing things because of:
    – fear and reacting to it (current depts, bills, simply things we don’t want)
    – getting instant gratification (food, alcohol, drugs, sex etc)
    – feeling compelled to act to the environment demands

    As long as you respond to the things that concern you, are the potential pain or worry, or as long as you are trying to get a “quick fix” of pleasure, or as long as you are responding to the peoples demands, YOU ARE LIVING LIFE OF REACTION! And you won’t get a level of fulfillment this way!

    You might want to check my post for more details: http://wp.gjovanov.net/manage-your-time/

    Cheers,
    Goran

    • The Outcome-Purpose-Action triad is a good test for anyone’s goals. Life itself, to quote a very popular author, should be purpose-driven. You have to start with the outcome on the front-end. It would be difficult to discern your purpose if the outcome you want is not set out upfront. Thank you for the comment.

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