After a week of digging into where your time is currently going and another week where you put the most important scheduled appointments on whichever calendar system you’re using, it’s finally time to look at your to-do list: all the little (or not-so-little) tasks that don’t automatically belong on a calendar.

If you need to catch up on anything first, check out the Tidy ’24 Calendar page to see what we’ve covered so far.

Tasks Week 3: Collect Your To-Dos

Last week, we worked with a calendar. This time, we’ll be working with a list. You may already have a to-do list. It could be a sticky note, a class syllabus, a day planner, a smartphone app, a website, or something at work. Or, it might be all of these.

…or none of them, and you just keep a running list in your head without forgetting anything. Hopefully. 🤞😬

What we want to do this week is pull together everything you want to get done:

  • Big projects or five-minute tasks
  • Important jobs or trivial chores
  • Immediate tasks or ones meant for six months from now

It doesn’t have to be in order, either chronologically or by priority or anything else. The point is to get everything in one place so you know where to look next time you have to decide what to do or the next time you think of something that needs to be done.

Action Steps:

  1. Choose the to-do list you want to use. You can use something physical, like a notepad or notebook, or choose from among the zillion electronic options.
  2. Add every task you can think of to your list. This includes big projects, little tasks, essential things and trivial things, tasks you want to do right away and things you might do next year. If you’ve thought of something, write it down.
  3. Scan your list and pick THREE tasks for next week. If you can, try to choose some easy ones, but at least one that will take some effort. You want a balance so marking them off doesn’t feel like cheating, but it also shouldn’t feel impossible right out of the gate.

Think of this process as a to-do list brain dump. You are getting the tasks out of your brain, so you don’t have to worry about holding them there for later recall.

As for choosing a to-do list tool in Step 1, you might go with something simple on paper. But as you may guess, I lean toward electronic solutions; GoogleApple, and Microsoft all have built-in tools available, or you can use an app like Todoist or TickTick or Things or Any.Do, or something more business-focused like Asana or Motion.

If you want to use an app but don’t have something in mind, keep things simple and use the free solution on your phone or computer. Or, if you feel adventurous, check out Todoist or TickTick. They’re both long-time favorites of many people, with good reason. They’re clean, simple, and cross-platform, so all your tasks synchronize across devices beautifully. Todoist has a slightly simpler interface and smoother task entry, while TickTick provides more complete calendar functionality, which is nice if you want appointments and to-dos all in one place. If in doubt, look up some video reviews and comparisons to better understand where each one excels. Or flip a coin. 😎

On Step 3, if you’re using a paper list, this means putting your three chosen tasks in a different place that you’ll see during the week, most likely a day planner or even a wall calendar. If you’re using an app, give each task a due date, and they’ll automatically move out of the inbox and into the “Today” or “Upcoming” list. (This is one reason why I like electronic solutions.)

Limiting yourself to three tasks on the final step helps you ease into what might be a new and unfamiliar system. If something goes differently than expected, or you decide the to-do list tool or app you chose isn’t for you, or your priorities change halfway through the week, adjusting things will take little effort.

Once you’ve chosen your three tasks and given them a due date, that’s it for now!

…just don’t forget to complete the tasks by next week. 😁

There’s more to task management than this, of course; after you have everything in one place, there are many helpful ways to categorize, prioritize, and plan. But this first step is crucial! We’ll get to more next week.

How Does This Help?

I know from experience that forgetting to do something is the easiest thing in the world, even if you were thinking about it just a minute earlier. If an idea pops into your head and you don’t write it down, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to hold onto it long enough to take action. As David Allen of “Getting Things Done” famously said, “The mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

Giving yourself a single place to keep track of everything you want to get done eliminates a significant source of stress, freeing your mind to work on how to do things rather than trying to maintain a list of what to do. Having everything all in one place also lets you consider what’s most important among your goals more efficiently, giving you both the big picture and a detailed view depending on what you choose to look at.

Who Does This Help?

If you feel like you need help to better manage your to-do list, this week’s task will certainly help. If you need help keeping track of what you want to get done, occasionally (or frequently) forgetting for one reason or another, this exercise will move you in the right direction. Pulling everything together will streamline your planning process if you’re keeping lists haphazardly or in multiple dissimilar places.

Who Does This NOT Help?

If you’re one of those lucky people with few pressing tasks, collecting them all in one spot will have limited benefits. However, if you’re subscribed to this newsletter, I think the chances of that are pretty low.

If you get overwhelmed by lists, this might be counterproductive. Some people feel worse, not better, when faced with a giant comprehensive list of things to do. While I think it’s better to learn to prioritize and schedule (or postpone) things intentionally rather than not make the list in the first place, this isn’t always practical.

If you are one of those people, I recommend you still go through the exercise but limit yourself to a much shorter time window. Only look at the next one or two weeks, if that. It’s still a lot better than nothing!

Quick Review

For Week 3, your task is to collect your to-dos. Choose the to-do list you want to use (physical or electronic), then add every task you can think of. Finally, scan through your list and pick three tasks to complete the following week.

If you have any questions about this week’s task or anything related to digital organization, reply to this email and let me know.

Happy data-taming!

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