To-do Lists That Actually Get Done

My Comments: How many of you actually made a list of New Year’s Resolutions? I used to make them, but it became pointless. Very little conformed to reality and few were accomplished. So no list of resolutions for me this year.

But it is helpful to be somewhat organized, and if you live a middle-class existence like most of us, there is always something that needs to get done. The alternative is to always get home from the grocery store and find you forgot something critical.

So here is perhaps a good start to the New Year. How to make this manageable and not drive yourself to drink. Here’s hoping that 2014 brings you everything you need and want! Happy New Year!

By Rhymer Rigby

Benjamin Franklin is often held up as the father of the to-do list. He famously began his lists with: “The morning question, What good shall I do this day?”

Nowadays we have systems such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done technique, to-do list functions in software such as Outlook, web services such as Google Calendar and apps such as Remember The Milk, Task and More than ever, lists can be edited and synchronised across several devices, allowing you to set reminders and provide the ability to work with collaborators.

Some go further. Pocket Lists, for instance, allows you to create digital lists from photographs of text taken with your phone, while Wunderlist can turn emails into actions by forwarding them. Carrot for the iPhone is one of the quirkiest. Depending on your point of view, it is either a way of gamifying a to-do list or an entertainingly sadistic app that wants to be kept happy. Carrot sends you messages such as “I am your new task master” and “You don’t want to make me upset”.

However, many people still swear by making a list on paper. It is the act of thinking about tasks and adding them to a list that matters.

Clare Evans, a time management coach, says the new year is a good time to get into the to-do habit. “Take your goals for the year, draw up a master list of tasks, then use this to populate smaller to-do lists.” So, if you aim to be promoted by December, work out what you must do in January. This could then form the basis for daily to-do lists.

Margaret Lukens, a productivity specialist, adds that lists work best when integrated into a calendar: “A task is an appointment you make with yourself.”

Much is often made of ruthlessly prioritising tasks, and apps shine in assisting with this. However, says Ms Lukens, “if you do this, you often find you prioritise at the wrong level and focus on tasks that are urgent rather than important”. Instead, try to think about tasks that will move you forward. Similarly, she adds, rather than worrying about being up to date with your list, think about progress made.

There are a few style points for lists. Standolyn Robertson, a personal organisation expert, advises using “action words” and describing the task properly: rather than write “report”, write “edit the report for Bob” as this makes you think about the task. “Build in transition times between tasks, and if tasks take you out of the workplace, think about where you are going to be.”

If tasks are not getting done, it may be because they are too big and need to be broken down. But it can also be that they are unimportant. If so, let them fall off your list. “If they’re important, they will come up again,” says Ms Lukens.

As for when you should write your daily to-do list, Ms Robertson suggests spending a little strategic time either at night or in the morning before you start your day – just like Benjamin Franklin.