Mastering the Surprising Power of Randomness

A new trick to conquer your to-do list - try randomness!


Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #302

Random display of diceDo you have tasks? I have tasks. Lots of them. And I never know which to do first. If only there were a natural law that would tell me.

Nature. Nature is very productive! Nature made the entire world. That was pretty productive. We use microscopes to unravel nature’s secrets. If you use a powerful enough microscope, you discover nature’s big secret: quantum mechanics. Reality is random. Probably.

If reality is random, then surely productivity must be random, too.


Productivity Can be Random

Albert Einstein said “God does not play dice with the Universe.” But Albert never met my friend Caroline.

Caroline is a productivity powerhouse. Her business makes more money in a week than most people make in a month, and she only seems to work about 10 hours. She’s always calling me up midday to go for walks, or build replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks. I asked how she has so much free time. She told me about her productivity system. Even though I’m fairly sure she’s not Mother Nature, her system is, well, pretty random.

Put All Your To-Do's in One Place

First, you need a single master system for managing your tasks. Caroline uses her Gmail inbox. You can use a paper list or an electronic list. You’ll be scanning your to-do's 25 at a time, so go into your settings and set the number of items displayed per page to 25.

If you use a paper list, you’ll have to count out your list into blocks of 25, and treat every chunk of 25 undone items as separate pages. There’s no magic to the number 25 (because there’s no such thing as magic — sorry, kids — there’s also no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy), but she finds it a good balance to make rapid progress.

Highlight To-Do's and Important To-Do's

Since Caroline’s to-do list is in her inbox, she has to separate these items from the regular emails. She flags all the messages that are to-do items with yellow stars. The important ones, she flags with purple stars. There should always be more yellow stars than purple stars, or your bar for what constitutes important is too low.

If you’re using your email inbox as your to-do list, switch to the view where you see just starred items, so there’s nothing visible but yellow and purple starred items.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.