A few years ago, I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done – a right of passage for any entrepreneur it seems. The book was an eye opener, but it took me more than a year and a half from reading it before my day looked even remotely close to what Allen describes in his book.
This was a source of great stress for me. So much so that I bought software, attended online courses, and threw away old notebooks just to try and break old habits and build the new one I knew would be beneficial to me.
If you’re anything like I was then, you can see the benefit of having a well manicured to do list, but are running into walls in creating such a list.
To help in your trip from frazzled to organized, I’ve gathered seven of the tactics I used to build and, most importantly, trust my to do list.
Only Keep One To Do List
A good organizational system captures everything in one place so you can process, organize, review, and do those tasks. When you have a single inbox in which all of life’s many messy to dos can flow, it actually becomes easier not harder to organize them.
Write Down EVERYTHING
This is a two stepper. First, make sure you start by capturing everything on your outstanding to do lists. Sift through email, dig through your handwritten notes, do manual audits of your open projects, and get EVERYTHING you could possibly need to do into your inbox.
Choose Software that’s Everyone You Are (and that You Love)
Manage your to do lists however works best for you. It could be a pocket sized notebook you manage daily or it could be a software tool that automates many of the steps listed above. Whatever it is, make sure it’s available wherever you are. For me that means Omnifocus, and more recently Toodledo (a free alternative).
Make Every To Do Actionable
One way to build trust in your to do list is to make sure everything you include on it is actionable. The biggest risk of a to do list is that the things you write down are vague or much larger than they seem, creating major roadblocks when you finally get to the point of managing them. To counter act this, keep your to dos as actionable as possible. Ask, is this something I can do in a single sitting? If not, it may be multiple to dos.
Choose a Day Zero
Choose a day on which your new system will start. Clear any old tasks that are done, reset any that are being transferred over, and cut off your old organizational systems. From that moment forward, ONLY use the new one. It will take a week or two to fully get into a habit, but once you do, you’ll start trusting that everything that comes to mind ends up in that inbox.
Read Getting Things Done
Honestly, everything I’m telling you is in some way described in Allen’s book, what has become a bible for productivity hounds and executives. If you want to get more done and truly trust your to do list to keep you on track, read his book and learn why it’s been such a revelation for me.
Process Your To Dos Daily and Gain Perspective
One of the reasons I failed so many times with my to do list is that I didn’t check it daily. There were days when I knew I didn’t need to and other days when I wasn’t planning on working so I didn’t check it. But the mere act of checking it helps to create a habit that long weekends and vacations can undo. Check your list, add items to your list, and maintain a steady schedule so you do it daily without thinking.
To do lists are a must for every professional, but they don’t have to suffocate your schedule or frighten you to the point of paralysis over tasks you may have forgotten. Create a system you can trust and rely in it to contain every possible task you’d ever need to complete. The moment you start doing that is the moment your work life gets significantly easier.
For those that HAVE implemented a to do list that works for them, how has the process gone. Sound off in the comments below with your stories about organization, GTD, or to do list backfires and how you handled them.
Thanks Anthony for writing this article. I’m trying to work with a to do list and it has it’s ups and downs because I don’t watch it daily. I use Evernote for it. It doesn’t have all the features of the programs you wrote about when it comes to to do lists, but because I can a also use it for notes, use labels, ect..
Keep up the good work and I hope to see more articles about productivity to make me smarter :).
Thanks Tim for your feedback!
I also use Evernote for capturing just about everything. Notes, agendas, brainstorms, etc. The cool thing about all of these great tools though is that’s so easy to find a combination that works for you. I love how easy it is to cobble together a handful of tools – even written notes from meetings – into a system that fits my situation.
One thing to try if you’re having trouble keeping up with your to do list daily is to send an email every day. Having it at the top of your inbox can help keep it top of mind, and once you build a habit, you’ll have trouble forgetting (even if you want to, haha)