Todo lists : Do and Don’t

Every time I’m unhappy about my progress I resort to Todo lists. Basically there are two types:  personal  and per-project.  Often a per-project todo list is implemented as a bug or issue tracking system.   These are very useful to keep everyone on the same page and not forget about things that do need to happen.  There is not a single reason why you should be using some sort of system to keep track of the future of your project.

The personal todo list is another thing (Gmail has a very nice and easy to edit one. )   Although they seem essential for a task-oriented approach to time-management,  I found there are many mistakes you can make.

The first and most important one is to let them grow:  You start enthusiastically with the first day, write down your tasks for that day and complete them.  However, not all days work out as well,  so  you will not always complete your tasks.  And here comes the danger of a todo list:  you tend to put the tasks you did not complete onto the next day.  So after a while your list gets full of tasks that you keep shifting forward.

The other danger is to put tasks on it that are not really tasks.  E.g.  ‘finish project X’.    That’s not something you can do now ‘right now’.  It’s something that has an undefined start, duration and ending. No wonder that it’s impossible to cross anything off for days. And nothing makes you feel worse than having a todo list and not crossing anything off.

The final problem is  adding tasks that are not for  today.  Often you have stuff that you need to do that feels convenient to put on your todo list. However,  if you are like me, you have a lot of these ideas and after a while it becomes more like an e-mail inbox up till the point that it seems impossible to finish everything.

So, learning from these mistakes I have decided that the best solution is to keep the Todo Today on paper and make a new one every morning. Furthermore the unfinished tasks from yesterday can not be at the top of your new day. Having it on paper will  encourage to not just re-edit yesterday’s list.

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