To-do lists are awesome. They really are. They’re so awesome that you can collect dozens of them, all different types. There are to-do lists written on sticky notes. To-do lists in notebooks. To-do lists scribbled on napkins. And then there are computers. And the to-do lists typed into memos. The to-do lists in to-do list apps that you downloaded and used for a week. Yes, life is overflowing with to-do lists.
In episode 171, How to Create One Master System to Organize Your Life we saw that using one master system can help put the genie of chaos back into the magic lamp of order. (It’s been a long week. My ability to cook up good metaphors is as sour as a week-long trip to a pickle factory. I probably should stop while I’m ahead.)
In short, by replacing the dozens of to-do lists with a single Long List, you’ll solve the problem of having dozens of lists. You’ll have one place where you know you can find your tasks. Chaos solved...
Sort of. Having one master list solves the problem of scattering your to-do's far and wide. But there’s still a dastardly problem lurking beneath the surface: accumulation.
Over time, you add things to the list. Then your priorities change. Or you get interrupted. Or your dog eats your homework. And even though an item is done or no longer relevant, you forget to remove it from your list. Given a few weeks or months, your list is no longer very accurate. It has stuff that’s been done, it has stuff that you no longer need to do, and it has stuff that society expects you to do, but you don’t want to do (Yay for individuality! You do you!).
A Weekly Review Will Save You
To keep your system working smoothly, start doing a Weekly Review of your task list.
In a weekly review, you’ll do a spring cleaning of your task list. Only, you’ll do it in all four seasons. But you’ll think about spring every time. Here's how it would work:
Step 1. Consolidate & Prune Step 2. Projectify & Grow Step 3. Grow … or Prune
When your to-do items are spread out over many pages, mixing up done items and to-be-done items, it gets hard to scan quickly and know what’s on your plate. Starting with the oldest item on your to-do list, scan forward.
Look at each item that isn’t marked complete. Make a decision. If it is no longer relevant, cross it off. I like to draw a little down arrow next to it, which means it’s been dropped from the list.
If it’s still something you want to do, copy it to the end of your list. Draw a little rightward pointing arrow next to it, so you know it’s been moved later on the list.
For pages that only have a few undone tasks, I copy those tasks to the end of the list and then toss the pages. And remember those sticky notes? Or the napkins with to-do items? Grab them all and consolidate them into your master list. Then throw away the other papers, leaving yourself with one master list. Now it's time to prioritize...