Is It Time to Throw Out Your Task List?

Don’t start today with what didn’t get done yesterday.

How many things are you trying to get done today? A lot, right?

How much of this is stuff that you were trying to get done yesterday? You didn’t get it done yesterday, so it rolled over to today. Some of that was stuff that rolled over because it didn’t get done the day before. How much of it is going to slip into tomorrow?

If you’ve ever started the day feeling like you’re already running behind, that might be part of it—you’re still trying to catch up with three days ago, or earlier. We have our big rocks that we want to work on, but if we don’t let go of the gravel that’s building up, there’s no way we’re going to get enough traction to make progress on the big rocks.

On busy days, have you ever set your task list side so you could concentrate on the things you really needed to get done?

If you have, you’re using your task list wrong. It’s time to throw out your task list and start again.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Tiko Aramyan

Why do we let the gravel build up?

  • We conflate our To-Do list with our Today list. The most important list of tasks you have is your Today list. It answers one question: Out of everything I could do, what am I going to do with these 24 hours? It’s the only list we should be executing from; every other list is for planning.
  • We overestimate how much we can get done in a day. We’re terrible at estimating. Sometimes we’re ambitious, sometimes we’re naïve, and sometimes we’re just blindsided. It’s okay to be optimistic and plan more work than will probably fit in a day—sometimes, it all comes together and we can get a lot done!
  • We don’t protect our priorities. Even after you have a plan for the day, you have to protect it. Others will try to recruit you to help them out. If they’re bringing you something that’s genuinely more interesting or more important than what you already have planned, slot it into the appropriate place for today. If not, it gets a No or a Not Now.
  • We still have tasks that are no longer relevant. Have you ever put something on your Today list, or your Someday/Maybe list, and when you got to it, you weren’t sure why you ever thought it was important? That happens! We change, and the world around us changes, and so do our needs and priorities. Don’t be afraid to take tasks off of your list. Some things are better left undone so you can do something else.

Every day is a new day, with new challenges and new opportunities. One of the things I love about the Ivy Lee method is that you create a new list every day. It’s a chance to reassess your progress, recommit to your priorities, and redefine what success looks like today.

Nothing gets a free ride onto today’s list just because it was there yesterday. Today is tabula rasa, a greenfield. It can be anything you want. Throw out what didn’t work yesterday and start fresh.

Question: What are you going to not do today? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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