- Collect open loops into an Inbox
- Process them to where they belong
- Organize them as needed
- Review regularly
- Take action
However, one of the places users tend to “fall off the wagon” in task management is when they feel so overwhelmed by a list such as their Today list that they cannot bear to look at it. There is simply too much.
Part of the trouble is the approach. You may feel that you need to put everything you need to do today on the Today list. That would be an understandable assumption. However, a Today list fails when used this way.
Much more useful is that it contains what you believe you can do today.
An overburdened list is similarly poisoned. There is too much on it. It is not completable and your unconscious self knows it. As soon as a list does not feel completable, we need to address it. Solutions include:
- We can break it into separate action lists – e.g. in the example above, we can have a list for this room and another list for the next room.
- We can break items down into individual sessions by setting them to repeat. That way, we can do some of a task, mark it complete and have it appear on the list at the next desired time.
- We can remove items by setting them on On Hold – perhaps transferring them to a project set On Hold.
- We can move items to a “Considered” list which is a set of things you might like to do after completing the Today list.
There are certainly more variations and options that perhaps a book might address.
Once the list becomes actionable, it takes on a new charge and we are able to move forward once again.
Of course, not everything that needs doing may get done. But if there was not enough time and attention in the day to do them in the first place, they wouldn’t get done anyway. As you move some items to other lists, e.g. Consider, or On Hold, you can create new tasks such as “Call Broderick to say, the monkeys have escaped; Project X needs to be postponed” or whatever needs to be done to delay or delegate. At least you’ll have been honest with what needs to be addressed and no longer be so overwhelmed that you cannot move forward at all.
After literally years of reading your and others advice on this very topic, it’s actually starting to sink in. I’ve been curating my Dashboard perspectives to be more realistic, and it not only feels better, I can actually say I’m getting more done. Instead of staring at a massive list, feeling paralyzed, and running off to some distraction for relief, I now see a handful of things that I can actually finish. Finishing one or two on a list of 50 doesn’t feel like much progress at all, but finishing one or two tasks on a list of, say, ten makes a tangible difference that gives a sense of momentum.
Doug I was just saying the same thing to Kourosh this week
Great to hear that you’re finding it useful. Yeah – I think that the idea of crafting “flow lists” is a significant productivity idea that can work regardless of tool. If you set up your workstations and environment to somehow feel do-able, that can go a long way to their actually getting done and our feeling positive about it in the process.
Great post. I was just commenting today that my flagged list each day seems overwhelming and needed some ideas to tackle it. My problem is that over half of my flagged list are daily repeated items that don’t give as much satisfaction completing than the single occurrence items. And as mentioned above, I also freeze and escape when my list is too big and end up ironically getting less done when I put more on my flagged list.
So commit to myself to bring my flagged list down to what I believe I can actually get done today no matter what – even if it means only doing the daily repeated tasks and nothing else.
It’s depressing to unflag a bunch of items each night that I didn’t get done that day. It’s amazing how emotionally/mentally draining something so simple as that can be. And it’s also amazing how awesome it feels to check off the last flagged item for the day. It’s almost like keeping a promise to myself and I’m sure there’s some sort of dopamine hit or something similar when I get a list to zero. Thanks again for your post!
What a clever trick. My feelings are the same as the other commenters.
“not everything that needs doing won’t get done”
I’m not sure I understood that bit. Do you mean that at least one thing will get done; or is just a typo for:
“not everything that needs doing will get done”?
That was an important typo. Thanks for catching it. Fixed!