In Praise of the Short To-Do List

I like making lists and planning. It’s just one of those weirdo things.

Following through? I’m okay at it, I guess.

The thing is, I can plan life down to the minute and I think I’m gonna be so very very productive. Seems cool when you lay it out in your planner. But it’s not so cool in real life when you’re actually trying to get real work done.

I’ve found that instead of showing more discipline, what I do is place a hard limit on how much I will put on my to-do list.

It forces several things. It makes you prioritize. It also forces you to focus clearly on what it is you really want to do.

Believe it or not, I try to keep my to-do list under ten items a day. Some tasks are bundled, yes. My morning routine consists of getting up, swishing and swiping the bathroom, making my bed, getting dressed, going downstairs to empty the dishwasher and get breakfast. Thing is, that bundled “task” takes less than fifteen minutes. My rule is that bundled tasks have to take less than fifteen minutes, or they have to be listed individually. I also only allow them for daily routine type stuff.

So for me yesterday:

  1. Morning routine
  2. Clean kitchen faucet with a toothbrush (I do this every six months or so. It was getting grody)
  3. Write handout for Project Basic Unit 6
  4. Write 750 words on novel
  5. Write script for Nifty Excel Tips video
  6. Take car to the shop
  7. Install comment form on website
  8. Write Ask the Misanthrope blog post
  9. Poke client about server info
  10. Evening routine.

Is this an overwhelming day? ‘Course not. I’m sure it doesn’t even look very impressive to many people. But I’ve found that if I have that ten item limit to my to-do list, I get more done because I don’t procrastinate and get overwhelmed. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll do bugger all. And yes, I did everything on my list.

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