When you’re not terribly busy or managing a light load, you might be able to remember everything you’re responsible for, but what happens when the pace picks up or you’ve got more plates to spin? Having a reliable practice in place can help take the pressure off. This applies to everyone from students to senior executives. Keeping track of tasks can be helped by having a task management Ritual you can count on.
Take a second and think about your to-do list. Is it scrawled on a scrap of paper, jotted down in a notebook, lurking in an online app, or perhaps just jumbled in your head? Is it a regular tool you use, or something you create in a crisis?
If you use it often and it’s working well for you, celebrate that. It’s quite a win, as many people struggle (including me) to find a system they enjoy.
Ask yourself three questions:
a) do you use your system regularly? If not there may be something to explore with mindset or the medium. It may not be the right format, but we’ll explore that in another post.
b) is it working for you? In other words, does it keep you on task and on track?
c) how does it make you feel? Do you feel good during and after using it?
Let’s explore the last question. If you’re looking at your to-do list and it leaves you feeling overwhelmed and like you’re not getting enough done, something needs to change. We simply don’t need the tools we choose to use leaving us feeling at all depleted afterward.
There is a need for two (or more) kinds of to-do lists. Just how many you need will depend on how you think and prefer to keep different tasks separately, but at minimum, I recommend having two lists.
The first, likely massive list, is what I call your Master To-Do List. It’s essentially a download of what’s on your mind. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you’re forgetting things, it’s worthwhile pausing, and even though it feels stressful, investing the time in going through your inbox, calendar, notes on your desk, and mind to capture your intentions. As Daniel J. Levitin explains in his book “An Organized Mind” (1),
“Writing things down conserves the mental energy expended in worrying that you might forget something and in trying not to forget it.”
But, I caution you in using this Master To-Do List when it comes to focusing on your daily activities. It is simply too big. Have you ever ordered a plate of food, perhaps a big bowl of pho (Vietnamese soup), and kept eating yet it looks like you’ve hardly consumed anything? It’s somehow highly ungratifying, no matter how tasty the food.
From your Master To-Do List, choose five important things you wish to complete in a day and write those down in a separate second list I call the “Focused Five“.
Why five? Five is a small enough number to actually get through. The act of selecting items forces you to identify the most important activities to attend to. You’ll enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from ticking everything off your list.
Keep this list right in front of you. Prop it up on your computer, leave it on your desk, or pop it into your wallet when you’re on the move. It’s a simple, low-tech way to keep your priorities top of mind.
I started out using index cards and then made a template to print my own cards to use each day. You can download it here.
If you get through your list, don’t forget to celebrate a little before choosing another item or two from your Master To-Do List.
Try it and I’d love to hear how it goes!
- Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Dutton an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017 p 69
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