5 More To-Do List Tips (Plus Bonus Tweakage!)

by ToriDeaux on July 27, 2007

Yesterday, I presented you with the first five tips for a more effective to-do list.

Always the over-acheiver, I’m offering up five more for your to-do list pleasure today (six, if you count the bonus, which I didn’t because it made for a cuter title).

So without further ado:

The To-Do Tweaks Collection (Part Two)

page_next5 Tweak Six:
Your Most Important Thing

Your MIT (Most Important Thing) is the one task that is… well…. the most important. (Bet you didnt see THAT coming! Ha)

An MIT might be a time sensitive, fragile task, something which has serious consequences if it isn’t done, something which will have huge benefits if it IS done, or something that later tasks will be built on.

Some days you may not have an MIT – others, you’ll have several. But try to keep it down to 3 or fewer, so you aren’t tempted to prioritize the full list.

How to mark Most Important Things? Place them in the top few slots on your list, intial them with MIT, or mark them with a star. I’m fond of those little foil stars. Sticking those on a to-do list before I’ve even started makes me feel all accomplished first thing. (Or it would, if I did it.. which I don’t.. so never mind!)

Credit? I’ve no idea where I picked this up.

page_next5 Tweak Seven:

The BrainDump is exactly what it sounds like… a big ol’ list with everything in your head dumped onto it. It’s a place for all of the could-ought-might-maybe-someday tasks and loose action items, the things you want to keep in mind, but don’t want or need to do right now. Don’t worry if the task is feasible, expensive, or even nearly impossible, this isn’t the time to judge it. Just get it out of your head and onto paper.

The BrainDump is about decluttering your mind, while preserving the sanctity of your to-do list. Every so often (once a week would be great) it needs to be processed, reviewed, sorted, and purged, with some of the items moved to your todo list, some just *done* right then, some moved onto the next BrainDump list.

Akin to the GTD tickler files and capture steps, it’s just a good idea.

Credit to Productivity501

page_next5 Tweak Eight:
Use Specific & Active Wording

Start each item with an active verb, so that it serves as a call-to-action, setting you in motion. Then describe your task items in terms of specific action, rather than short hand general notations. For example:

  • “Tend To Current Bills” instead of “Bills”
  • “Mop Kitchen Floor” instead of “Kitchen Floor”
  • “Schedule Appointment with Dr. Smith” instead of “Doctor Appt.”

Making each item specific helps to narrow your focus, and keeps the momentum from being slowed by the instant of confusion as you glance at the list and ask “which bills? which doctor?”.

The few extra keystrokes will save time and confusion ordinarily spent in mental background sorting.

Credit to Lifehacker and me : )

page_next5Tweak Nine:
Keep It Organized & Approachable

A napkin or the back of an envelope may be great for spontaneous note taking, they probably aren’t the best choice for your to-do lists. Whether in pixels or on paper, organizational lists should *look* organized. Visual organization reduces mental clutter and encourages organized thinking.

Simultaneously, whatever you use for your list needs to be approachable; it shouldn’t be so structured or fancy that it is intimidating. I have an entire collection of beautifully bound notebooks I never use, because my lists never seem “worthy” of them, and Daytimers never worked for me because the structure was intimidating and inflexible.

Index cards are my personal favorite: inexpensive, easily available, naturally structured, and infinitely flexible. (Behance’s Action Pads would be my top choice, but I can’t afford them for daily stuff.)

Credit: Me! Ok, it’s not original, but
I figured it out all on my own!

page_next5Tweak Ten:
Your Progress As Art Work

Speaking of the cool folks at Behance, they came up with the idea of using completed task lists as wall art. Surround yourself with progress, or as core77 put it, “Bask In Your Own Progress” by pinning completed to-do lists on your wall. It provides an excuse to spend time on making a list “Pretty”, and encourages the use colors and scribbles and gold stars and the like. I can imagine it set up something like this photo wall. Cool, No?

Credit: Behance

page_next5 Bonus Tweakage:
A Clean Slate

Don’t be afraid to take items back off the list. Don’t be afraid to just throw a list away. Every once in a while, your task list needs a fresh start.

I start with a new primary to-do list each day, but I often roll tasks over from the day before. Sometimes I’ll notice some items that have been on each day’s list for a week or more. If it’s not done in the next 2 days, it clearly wasn’t important enough to be on the lists. So off it goes. The next list is started totally from scratch, a clean slate.

Habits lists, Braindump lists, all of them need to be “rebooted” every so often. Glance over them briefly to see if you’ve missed anything *really* important, transfer any items you think are worth saving, then burn, shred or flush it the whole thing. Make it a scheduled ritual, or a spontaneous action saved for when you’re just fed up. Torch it! Down with The Tyranny of ToDos!

If you’re opposed to violence (sometimes I am) just think of it as setting the tasks free, giving them room to run and grow, to develop into the free-range todos that God meant them to be…

Ok, I’ve just gone silly now.

If you want to go back and read the first five, be my guest. Otherwise, start listing!


MindTweak: The To-do list is a tool of the devil, but I have faith I can master it, and lift it to the heavens with a… oh the hell with it.  Give me the torch….

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jackie 08.02.07 at 1:12 pm

#8,9 are very useful tweaky tips. My lists consisted of “floors” and “stove”. When I reached these on the list sometimes I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with them. :) Great idea to use specific wording!
Napkin lists always seem to find their way into the wash. *giggles*

Happy day!

2 M.T. 08.03.07 at 5:42 pm

@Jackie: I’m very bad about vague to-do items, as well.. Thinking of them in terms of “action items” seems to help me, but then I have to watch the temptation to get *too* specific and get bogged down in the details.

Maybe the “well washed” napkin lists needed to be … cleaned up? ha : )