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How to Keep a To-Do List

December 18, 2009

I keep a short to-do list. This is for all the stuff I need to do to make my work go. It usually doesn’t grow beyond 20-30 items, and mostly lives around 15-20. Nothing goes on it that has to be done on a particular date – those items go on my calendar on the day they have to be done.

My to-do list has three pieces of information, in the order below – that’s so it’s easy to sort in this sequence.  With only three bits of information, it’s easy to scan and work on a daily basis.

  1. Today and Someday
    a. Today means it can’t wait
    b. Someday means it can wait
  2. Time estimate – how long I think it’s going to take. This is an amazing thing. If I see that something is only going to take 4 minutes, I can squeeze it in. In fact, I can squeeze 10 of these in a day easy.  If I budget 30 minutes for something (I try to be conservative in my budgeting), I set the time aside to get it done.
  3. A short description of the item to do

Then, of course, there’s my checkbox. Gotta have the checkbox. I don’t like to cross things out, because then, when I look at the list, I can’t see all I’ve done.  When it’s checked off, then I feel the warm glow of satisfaction… for a minute at least until I am onto the next thing.

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