January 23, 2008

Unlearning the To-Do List

Posted in organize, unclutter at 12:17 pm by @LULAROEFAIL

Unlearning the To-Do List

January 22nd, 2008 by Stephen


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“When most people sit down to write a list, they’re actually
trying to combine all five phases we’ve defined for mastering workflow:
collect, process, organize, review, and do. They are simultaneously attempting
to grab things out of their mind, decide what they mean, arrange them in some
logical or meaningful fashion, jump immediately to an evaluation of each
against the other, and then choose the “most important” thing to do.”

~David Allen, Ready for Anything,
p.6

Does David Allen mean that this is the wrong way to make a to-do list?

Yes, indeed. The traditional list of things to do is a first generation
planning tool, succeeded by planning by calendar approaches, values-based
planning, and finally the workflow process. Why does the workflow process work
better?

The To-Do list is just a collection

A list is only a list, it has no context, and by itself can offer no
assistance in assigning a priority. These things may only exist in your mind,
and you must get them out. Write down what those contexts are, in detail. Are
there tasks that you must do:

  • at home?
  • at work?
  • on the computer?
  • online?
  • on the telephone?
  • via e-mail?

This is just a sample of the contexts that you may need to assign.

Process your To-Do list immediately

Do not just write things down willy-nilly. Write down each task on a separate
list, one for each context. Assign an estimated duration for each task. This
may take a little longer, and use more paper, but you are preparing your list
for organizing. This gives the list value. For example, when you sit down and
open your e-mail client, you have your To-Do list of tasks prepared, and can
execute them. You will not have to search for things that you wrote down yet
may have forgotten.

Organizing pays off over time

Having your To-Do list divided into Contexts will pay off in the incremental
advances that you make each day. If you save 10 minutes here, and 5 minutes
there, pretty soon you have saved an hour. And going home at 5:00 instead of
6:00 is worth just how much to you? I know that it was worth a lot to me!

Make time for a review

At the end of each day, take a moment or two to review the days activities.
Check off all of the things that are done, and note which ones you would like
to address first tomorrow. Then, when Friday rolls around, and you look at your
much-diminished lists of tasks, how will that feel? Can you imagine
having some extra time on the last day of the week to actually sit down and
look over your accomplishments for the week? Think about being able to catch
things that others have missed, or being able to follow-up on delegated tasks
early in the day, before weekend-itis sets in.

Do, do, do

Having a list of things to do is fine, but having an organized list of tasks
– sorted by context and tagged with duration – is a thing of beauty. Imagine
yourself at your desk, preparing for a meeting, when the phone rings. The
meeting has been delayed one half-hour. What do you do? The unprepared
person may go get a cup of coffee, or fiddle around surfing the internet. If
you have the time, these may be appropriate choices. But say you have a
deadline approaching and you would like to follow-up with some team members.
You look over your lists, and voila, you see that have an e-mail
session you estimated at 20 minutes. You are at your desk, the computer is
there, you are ready for the meeting, and you have 30 minutes. Send the e-mails
and cross it off the list!

Now you can go get that cup of coffee, and walk into the meeting
feeling good about that half-hour delay.

Related Posts:
Clear
Your In-box with Your Context List

Don’t
Try to Remember Everything

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