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02/02/2015

3 usual mistakes done while writing a todo list

You (as me) have tried to organise your work with todo lists. You also discovered that they tend to work for a week and then be ignored or forgotten or not updated! I'd the same issue too. Until I read "Getting Things Done" (GTD) 5 years ago. Since then, my todo lists are organized, useful and they help me keep my brain free of things to remember. Beware, you and I do not live in a perfect world, todo lists require regular reviews and you can always try to improve them.


All 3 mistakes have a solution, and a good todo list apply all 3 solutions, but solving the main issue is a good start.

Lets do it, take your last todo list, if it's full of non done stuff, read solution 1, if it's less than 10 todo then solution 2 is for you, if it's a looooong list, solution 3 will help.


1) List of the things I should have done - the procastination effect
    This problem can be solved by writing on my todo list, not the final goal but the next physical action to do. In the case of the lamp, I would write on the todo list "Check the type of batteries for the lamp" when that action is done I would write "Put to buy aaa batteries on the supermarket list"
2) Very little list with elements with very big todos. E.g. "Conquer the world"
    Actions need to be doable, actions need to be well defined and how they end should be easy to visualize or for other to understand
3) Very very long list - maybe correct but probably too detailed
    The rule is that every action that requires less than 2 minutes to be done should be done immediately. So for example I will get all what is needed to write a letter by following the 2 minutes rules and an action named write a love letter to <wife's name>, instead of "find paper", "find pen", "check calendar for date"....

What was not working with my list?
1) List of procastination. I should do what is on the list, but I don't know exactly how to do it, or I miss some information to do it and I forget to get it.
A classic example would be "Check the boiler" but I cannot see the boiler until I've a lamp, but the batteries in the lamp are dead and I'll buy them coming back from the office. The last action never happen, coming back from the office, I might think about dinner, I might think about work, but I surely don't think about boiler or batteries.

2) Todos are to generic, it's not a single action but a multitude of actions summarized in one sentence. Just reading it makes you feel tired. It's natural, given a goal, your brain will fill the gaps between NOW and where this action end, and if the final action is far away, there is a lot to to do and your brain try to visualize all the actions at the same time. Ouf.
3) It takes more time to write in the list than to do them, result: a never ending list, with lot of details.
Example of such a list: "Write love letter to wife" becomes "find pen"; "take pen", "find paper".... .

Summary:
In your todo list write action that are
Physical activities
With a clear end
Takes more than 2 minutes to do

Tricks:
Use physical verb to start a todo element. instead of "Thinking about vacation destination" use "List potential vacation destinations"
Describe the action. instead of "comment blog" write "comment on the moving think tank blog
Read the next blog post as we'll continue to improve the todo list

a bientot
Frank