How to Manage Your To-do List

Tame your to-do List with the Autofocus task manager system.

Stever Robbins,
July 26, 2010
Episode #143

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Sheila wrote : my to-do items are stuck on little pieces of paper everywhere. It’s driving me crazy! Do you have a task manager system that will help me?

My task manager system for tracking a to-do list combines elements of two systems: Getting Things Done by David Allen, and Autofocus 4 by Mark Forster.

How to Manage Your To-Do List

Why are the to-do sticky notes causing your head to explode? Because you never quite know where they all are. Sure, you have a bunch at your desk. A few are probably in your car. And there’s even the note you wrote while getting your weekly massage. When he saw you writing, your masseur Boris dug into your back so hard you almost dropped your iPhone.

David Allen says we need a Zen Mind, a mind like water: calm, placid, and moist. You get a moist mind by having a system that handles everything in your life. When a thought pops to mind, you know what to do: first, put on the aluminum foil hat to make sure that the idea isn’t being beamed into your head by aliens. Then, put that thought in your system-that-handles-everything. Suddenly, your mind is clear again. This only works if the system is so reliable that you know, down to the tips of your brightly painted toenails (you know you have them, guys) that putting something in means you will get to it. You have to trust the system.

(And that, my friends, is probably the first time those words have ever passed my lips. “Trust the system.” Indeed!)

In Getting Things Done, David presents a wonderful, trustworthy system that handles everything. It even has a little flowchart. That flowchart sent every Star Trek T-shirt wearing, science fiction reading, my-solutions-are-far-more-complicated-than-the-problems-they’re-supposed-to-solve type geek into a nirvana of organizational ecstasy when the book came out. Melvin and I? We used the GTD system for years and it worked beautifully.

Use a Task-Management System that Manages Everything

Unfortunately, Bernice needs personal organization too. She doesn’t wear Star Trek T-shirts, and she thinks flowcharts are … unnatural. “If Goddess had intended womyn to use flowcharts, she would have given them computers,” Bernice sniffs. Of course, we do have computers, so wouldn’t that count…?

Keeping David Allen’s requirements in mind—a trusted system that handles everything—there’s a system even the Goddess would love. It’s the remarkably simple Autofocus 4 system by Mark Forster. It uses a combined right-brain/left-brain approach to tasks, which Bernice assures me is much more Goddess-friendly.

Create a Master To-Do List

Using a paper to-do list makes me think twice before adding to-do items.

First, decide where you’ll keep your master to-do list. You can use a word processor document, or a spreadsheet, e-mail, or a notebook. I’ve switched between online and paper systems for years and consistently get better results with paper. Paper makes me think twice before adding to-do items. If something’s isn’t important enough to write by hand, it’s not important enough to spend time on. With electronic systems, once a list gets longer than a screen or two, I only look at the first couple of pages. Anything further down doesn’t get done. I can’t trust my system any more, and Zen mind goes bye-bye. Click here for more tips on choosing a tool to manage your to-do list.

I use a pocket-sized soft cover Moleskine® notebook to hold my to-do list. It is a joy to use.